Drawing the Line by Howard Brenton: Hampstead Theatre at home and The Guardian to April 19th 2020. 3***. Review Mark Courtice


By Howard Brenton

A Hampstead Theatre Production shown on Hampstead Theatre at Home and Guardian Lockdown Culture


Directed by Howard Davies

Design by Tim Hatley

Costume Design by Jack Galloway

Lighting by Rick Fisher

Composer Nicki Wells

Sound Design by Mike Walker

Dates: Monday 13 April, 10am – Sunday 19 April, 10pm 2020

Viewing Platform: theguardian.com or hampsteadtheatre.com

Running Time: 2 hours 15mins. Review Mark Courtice

Suggested Age Recommendation: 14+

Howard Brenton’s knotty play definitely gives us something else to think about.  After Covid 19 has come and gone the devastation wreaked by Empire, and its destructive ending in the Indian sub-continent, will still be with us.

High Court judge Cyril Radcliffe is chosen to decide on the border between India and Pakistan as Britain leaves. Completely unqualified (“an India virgin”), he works to an impossible deadline, set, its implied here, by Mountbatten to detach his wife from her lover (and future Indian Prime Minister) Nehru.  Radcliffe wants to be remembered for doing good, but runs slap into the impossibility of ending Empire by dividing a country.

You care about Tom Beard’s Radcliffe – he is particularly good with the parallel between the physical with the psychological. He is a “blocker, not a flusher” when it comes to the intestinal agony that mirrors his psychological pain. As the ghastly Mountbattens both Andrew Havill and Lucy Black are queasily right; she does find genuine pathos as she has her last meeting with Silas Carson’s suave Nehru. The Indians in this play function as immovable objects in the way of the unstoppable force of the post imperialists and as such are seriously underwritten. Nowhere is this clearer than in Tanveer Ghani’s personality free Ghandi.

The production is beautifully designed with projections on curtains and fretwork walls, lit sympathetically to create both a palace and a place where nothing is solid. Everything works well on screen at home, and the finish of props and costume are finely detailed.

Given this is a play about rushing to an impossible deadline it’s all a bit leisurely; scene changes take too long. Brenton gives the audience time to wrestle with the arguments but, like so many then and since, reserves the right to not provide answers.


Pethick Lawrence/Sargeant     David Annen

Jinnah                Paul Bazely

Cyril Radcliffe      Tom Beard

Edwina Mountbatten   Lucy Black

Nehru    Silas Carson

Antonia Radcliffe     Abigail Cruttenden

Mr Justice Meher/Chand Mahajan/Villager     Neil D’souza

Gandhi/Elder/Teja Singh       Tanveer Ghani

Mountbatten      Andrew Havill

Dalit Woman/Kalvati    Salma Hoque

Chaudri/Aide to Nehru/Indian Photographer     Rez Kempton

Clement Atlee      John Mackay

Liaquat/Villager/Aide to Nehru/Din Mohammed     Simon Nagra

Rao Vd Ayer/Young Man     Nikesh Patel

Christopher Beaumont     Brendan Patricks

Dali Woman/Taravati     Shalini Peiris

Young Man/Aide to Jinnah/Lord Krishna     Peter Singh

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