ARTISTIC director Indhu Rubasingham has revealed that she wasn’t confident the National Theatre would take on ‘The Father and the Assassin’ in the first place and defended the play in terms of its representation.
The play returns to the National Theatre in September on the Southbank in London, after premiering there in May 2022. The play is written by Indian Anupama Chandrasekhar.
Rubasingham, who has worked with Chandrasekhar at The Kiln, where is she artistic director until 2024, was workshopping the play before the pandemic and lockdown, told www.asianculturevulture.com: “I thought the National would absolutely kill the ‘The Father and the Assassin’.
“It would not be a play that they would put on when we were trying to come back out of this time (the pandemic).”
The drama broadly charts the intellectual development of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi, and covers episodes of Indian history at the time leading up to Independence and Gandhi’s shooting in 1948. The play includes an encounter between Godse and Vinayak (‘Vir’) Savarkar (1883-1966), widely seen as one of the intellectual forefathers of modern nationalism in India.
In a roundtable discussion on the play and responding to a question from Suman Bhuchar, acv’s associate editor, Rubasingham explained: “I don’t think there is a theatre in the world that would put on a new play on the scale of ‘The Father and the Assassin’ – on the Olivier* stage with some 20 (South Asian) actors with a writer from a different country – I cannot think of that.”
She said it should give others confidence their minority voices, in the stage, could be heard too.
Some critics feel that there is a lack of representation for home grown British Asian writers in institutions such as The National Theatre and that plays about India or other parts of the world don’t say enough about what is going on the theatre’s doorstep, especially in relation to the British Asian community.
Rubasingham mentioned the work of British playwright Tanika Gupta whose ‘The Empress’ (RSC) and stage adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ (Royal Exchange, Manchester) both feature on stages soon – and countered: “Yes, of course there need to be 10 million other plays but it is something that will mean that a lot of other playwrights – emerging playwrights – will go: ‘Oh, my god if that can happen, I can write that play’. They can make it happen – if the National did that.
“Other artistic directors can then have the courage to commission that play that they may have been a bit nervous about.”
Paul Bazely, who reprises his original role as Gandhi added: “It’s a good question to keep asking (about representation) because we need to pressurise people to not become complacent and for institutions to go, ‘Oh, we’ve had our brown play, so we don’t need to worry about that for a few years now.”
Chandrasekhar, who was in the same roundtable, pointed out: “There are people from Sri Lanka, I’m from India and there are British Asians – some have Pakistani origins, some are Bangladeshi – there is a sense of shared history that is really humbling. It’s a privilege to be in that space with all these people.”
Rubasingham said that the play would appeal to those who had already seen it.
She added: “I think it’s better on lots of levels – when we first did it, we didn’t know whether it was even going to work.
“From the movement, from the sound to the lighting design, we’re all going how can we make it better? How can we make it even more excellent.”
*The Olivier is the largest of the National’s three separate spaces and holds 1,150 officially
All pictures courtesy of the National Theatre & ©MarcBrenner
For more on the roundtable discussion and full listings see – http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/the-father-and-the-assassin-universal-themes-of-nationalism-patriotism-and-faith-return-to-the-national-theatre/