Photo: Marc Brenner

We heard really great things about last year’s production of The Father and the Assassin at the National Theatre, but unfortunately weren’t able to cover it when it played previously – so we were excited to see that it was returning to its former home. This production reunites Indian playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar with director Indhu Rubasingham, and stars Olivier-winner Hiran Abeysekera (Life of Pi) as the assassin Nathuram Godse.

The story of Mahatma Gandhi (played in this show by Paul Bazely), the civil rights activist and leader of the successful campaign for Indian independence from British rule, is pretty well known – but we’re far less familiar with the story of his assassin. This play shines a light on the life of Nathuram Godse, and his is a fascinating one – initially raised as a girl by his parents (who fear for his life, having lost their three previous sons), he is an extremely charming and likeable young adult. We certainly weren’t expecting to warm to a murderer or find his jokes so amusing.

What we see gradually unfold through his 20s and 30s is a man becoming ever more radicalised, subscribing to the ideology of his  rightwing mentor Savarkar, pursuing the idea of establishing a Hindu hegemony within India. Gandhi’s vision of an independent India being secular, as welcoming to Muslims as it is to Hindus, obviously is at odds with Savarkar’s plans; the two evidently have longstanding differences and Godse is clearly determined to assist his mentor and prevent Gandhi from succeeding.

It’s a captivating piece of historical theatre – this is an incredible story and the way it’s told is extremely compelling. All the central performances are strong; the staging is quite minimal but is utilised effectively. On occasion the (fairly small) ensemble cast doesn’t quite convincingly fill the stage as much as we’d have liked, for example during moments of mass peaceful protest; there’s also a slight pacing issue in act two, it’s just not as punchy as the first half. But minor gripes aside this is a fascinating watch and it tells an important story – one we’d gladly recommend.

GAY TIMES gives The Father and the Assassin – 4/5

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