DRAWING THE LINE
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