Following broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds on 14th August – marking the exact time when the Empire partitioned India 70 years ago – Nick Ahad’s Partition now arrives at West Yorkshire Playhouse for a two-night engagement of live performance. Exploring the impact and shockwaves of the partition of India in 1947, the play is performed using traditional radio drama techniques for the benefit of a live audience.
The story centres on a young couple of the present day, Saima and Ranjit, as they prepare for their wedding day in Leeds Town hall. Their love is absolute, however, a history of division exists between their ancestors; a 70-year-old rift between some Sikhs and Muslims, with wounds which remain profoundly raw for their parents. Can a brave new generation overcome the long, dark shadow of India’s partition?
Nick Ahad’s script is a distilled and energetic drama with rapid, cross-cut scenes common to the shorthand style of radio. Within the confines of a 55-minute running time, a 70-year-old story is told with a tightly focused view on the individual. This is a tale about people and families, rather than politics, brimming full of a domestic reality which breathes life into a large, complex historical event. Partition is also a play which celebrates cultural diversity, reveling in rich accents and regional humour, punctuated with pathos and underpinned by a simple love story.
Stefan Escreet directs a hybrid production between BBC Radio Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouse with a playful simplicity. Whilst the show can be enjoyed without visuals, Escreet has carefully choreographed and theatrically lit his performers with movements which expand Partition beyond a live script reading. In short, there’s as much for the eye to enjoy as the ear.
Live foley effects are created on stage, whilst performers also adopt numerous roles, particularly Darren Kuppan who demonstrates superlative range playing both young and old in the same scene. Balvinder Sopal is equally impressive, capturing the clucking intensity of a doting mother coupled with a broad Yorkshire cafe owner. Mez Galaria shines as bride-to-be Saima, who handles some particularly expositional dialogue surrounding the history of partition with convincing naturalism and emotion. It’s also always a delight to see the exceptionally talented Dominic Gately in any production and he delivers no less than a tide of charismatic and hilarious characters in Partition.
The British partition of India had huge ramifications for the people who were living in villages on the Radcliffe Line – the boundary which drew the distinction between India and Pakistan. Clumsily dividing a complex, ancient nation by religions, communities were thrown into a typhoon of confusion, insecurity and ultimately civil war. Ahad’s play is a remarkable study of healing and forgiveness, bravely exploring horrors which shouldn’t be forgotten, whilst offering much optimism for the future.
The very best theatre educates as well as entertains and Partition triumphs, proudly, in both categories. The collaboration between West Yorkshire Playhouse and BBC Radio Leeds is an undoubted cocktail of success and will hopefully lead to more co-productions in the same vein.
Cast: Mez Galaria, Darren Kuppan, Balvinder Sopal, Dominic Gately. Director: Stefan Escreet Writer: Nick Ahad Theatre: West Yorkshire Playhouse Duration: 55 minutes Dates: Friday 8th to Saturday 9th September 2017.
Book online at wyp.org.uk or call the Box Office on 0113 213 77 00.
Partition can also be enjoyed through the BBC IPlayer until Wednesday 13th September.