Review: 'Partition' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Adam Bruce

  • OnStage United Kingdom Critic

It’s been seventy years since the partition of India and the subsequent creation of Pakistan. In spite of its highly significant cultural and reverberant national heritage for citizens of all races and creeds, the event has been somewhat neglected across multiple school curriculums across the country. The reasons behind this neglect are debatable, but it’s clear that something needs to be done about cementing its legacy in the minds of generations to come. In a bid to address this issue, Leeds-based writer Nick Ahad, in collaboration with BBC Radio Leeds and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, has created a highly innovative piece of theatre: a live, recorded radio play titled Partition.

Ahad doesn’t try to tell the full story of the eponymous event; instead, he has crafted a piece of drama that revolves around a modern day Muslim and Sikh couple dealing with the hereditary aftermath of the partition. The central narrative then ripples across a range of connecting stories and characters, thematically and historically linking together the various identities affected by the event.

The story is told by four actors (Mez Galaria, Darren Kuppan, Balvinder Sopal and Dominic Gately), who between one another portray the range of characters within Ahad’s narrative. Under the smooth direction of Stefan Escreet, the actors excellently execute Ahad’s text, which seamlessly unfolds in the Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre in just over an hour. The actors skilfully and artfully bring multiple voices to the fore, masterfully representing the historical and thematic ripple effect pulsating throughout Ahad’s text – echoing the very same voices in today’s society that are knowingly and unknowingly affected by the partition.

Emphasis here is not placed on the physical actions of each character; this is, of course, a radio play. Yet, there’s something special at work here as a result of the voices and drama physically unfolding before us. With the most sincere sense of simplicity, the creative team behind this piece has managed to give the audience a unique glimpse of the tangible connection spectators have to performance. Something as simple as the Stage Manager’s role as a Foley artist recording sound live – i.e rubber gloves being flapped to create the sounds of a pigeon – reminds audiences of the omnipotence of theatricality and the essential nature of every story we hear.

As a result, Ahad imbues this well-written, contemporary piece with a sense of new connectivity and, more importantly, urgency. These voices echoing around the auditorium, their speakers illuminated by spots of light and general encompassing washes, become essential to everyone in the space. The audience truly share in the experience of embarking on the piece’s journey, just as they would in any piece of theatre, albeit with a newly energised sense of imagination.

This collaboration between two of Leeds’ strongest creative, intercultural entities reminds us of the power of shared experience. These voices in the darkness, whether experienced live or through a set of earphones on demand, will undoubtedly continue to convey the need for shedding more light on the partition of India. If this stunning piece created by BBC Radio Leeds and the West Yorkshire Playhouse is representative of the work that will hopefully be produced by this partnership in the future, then I’m very excited to see it all come to fruition time and time again.

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