May 22 2015
The play, based very much around the shocking Delhi rape case, continues to educate and inspire and our writer got a chance to meet the cast after their opening performance at the Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre last night…
By Tasha Mathur
“MY STORY has taken so long to be told…it’s now become a myth.”
“The city [Delhi] the world has officially called ‘Hell on earth for women.’”
“How do I live with myself as a man?”
“I know my silence is part of what the dark night brought.”
“I had covered all the mirrors in the house. I wept when I saw my reflection in a spoon.”
“We. Carry. On.”
These are just some of the testimonials from both victims and members of the public within Yael Farber’s hard-hitting play, “Nirbhaya“; based on the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey on 16 December 2012 in Delhi, India.
“Nirbhaya” consists of five women’s stories surrounding gender based violence from marital rape to a dowry bride with each story being borne out of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s death. Farber subtly highlights how this one pivotal incident broke the barriers of silence and allowed female victims of violence to speak about things they had never dared to before out of shame and secrecy.
Before the play began, Farber explained to the audience that the show had been modified slightly as one cast member, Priyanka Bose, had damaged her knee in New York. However, with each character and actor being so integral to the plot, the cast insisted the show must go on with Priyanka in order to maintain Nirbhaya’s integrity and ensure “the spirit of the show remains”.
Despite this, the play is beautifully constructed as we hear of these women’s stories all connecting to Jyoti herself: “I am her. She is me. This then is my story.” With a minimal set, the cast successfully re-creates the bustling, chaotic city of Delhi around them and use very few props to share their memories. A little girl’s dress. A woman’s wedding dupatta. A cream silk nightie. All symbols of joy that have turned into reminders of the nightmares they had to live through.
What struck me most throughout the play was the emotional energy the performers have to build in order to act out such traumatising stories, night after night. Until it struck me that these aren’t fictitious stories…but their own accounts. The amount of courage it took to not only remember such traumatic events from their past but to share it with others created a special bond between the audience and themselves.
Actor, Ankur Vikal, the only male member of the play, told www.asianculturevulture.com after the performance at a private party: “I needed to redeem myself…this is an appointment with myself”, after he had seen so many acts of violence throughout his life and felt helpless to do anything about it.
The authenticity of the play is what makes Nirbhaya most gripping. The tears, the pain and the memories are all real. What “Nirbhaya” reminds us is that there is still a hidden blanket of secrecy and silence covering millions of other stories, which Farber aims to unveil. At a small gathering after the show, she tells us how many members of the audience have been inspired to share their own stories after watching Nirbhaya.
But it’s important not to forget the woman behind “Nirbhaya“; Jyoti Singh Pandey and the play pays a beautiful homage to this young, ambitious woman whose life was taken too soon. Despite the brutality of the incident, Farber skilfully portrays the scene to highlight the viciousness of the attack in subtler ways, which must be seen to understand.
Having just finished performing in New York, “Nirbhaya” will now begin touring the UK after the Alchemy Festival before going back to Indian audiences. It’s a play that must be seen by as many people as possible (men and women of all classes, creeds and castes) in order to make people aware of the millions of violent attacks against women, to inspire others to tell their stories and to hopefully bring about real change on a global level.
All pictures: William Burdett-Coutts
- Nirbhaya – at the Alchemy Festival until Sunday, May 24 – a few tickets, still available (at time of going to press) but hurry!
See here http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/nirbhaya-88745
- Then goes on Alchemy Festival tour: Black Country tour until May 30 and then Oldham Coliseum Theatre, June 1-2, then June 4-6 at Cast, Doncaster. See for more information/booking http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/touring-at-southbank-centre
‘Nirbhaya’- tackling sexual violence
Suman Bhuchar Theatre Voices interview with Yael Farber