DRAWING THE LINE
by Howard Brenton.
Hampstead Theatre Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 11 January 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed except 1 Jan) & 24 Dec, 2 Jan 2.30pm, Sat 3pm.
no evening performance 24 Dec, no performance 25 Dec.
Audio-described 4 Jan 3pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 7 Jan (+ Transcribed Post-show Discussion).
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 December.
Clarity over confusing moment of history, given present-tense urgency.
Once, ‘drawing the line’ applied to Howard Brenton’s work would have had different connotations, as the young playwright macheted-away at bounds of taste with violent imagery and abrupt style.
His later plays, including three in little over a year at Hampstead, retain stylistic elements and an awareness of shock techniques, applied less shockingly, often to re-examine history.
The left-wing background remains in a reference to Karl Marx’s view of historical processes. The sudden images and surprise transitions, brief scenes making a stark point rather than developing the penumbra of characters, are Brenton hallmarks. As is the interest in public processes over private lives.
At least that avoids the cliché of plays about adultery in Hampstead. The adultery here’s in Delhi, as Brenton suggests Lord Mountbatten, in overall charge, hurried-through Indian independence so he could take his wife back to England, away from her liaison with Indian leader Nehru.
But he has no explanation – which lies in how the English establishment determines its good and makes them great – why the British Labour government dispatched a judge totally ignorant of India to divide the country into two states, Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Populations were often mixed; wherever the line was drawn would threaten conflict. The play refers to mass deaths and shows squabbling politicians.
It’s the sole Sikh whose silence recommends itself to English judge Cyril Radcliffe. But silence is ineffectual amid the clamour of political interests. And to upset historical reasoning more, Radcliffe repeatedly has to rush his queasy tummy off to the toilet.
Brenton mixes historical sketch and detailed argument as Radcliffe discovers the job he first approaches calmly, as if in his London court, is as complex as the filigree designs of the palace where he works.
Tom Beard captures his upper class confidence and desperate sense of duty at various stages, while other figures are capably presented in outline.
And for the first act outlines being presented and stating their case is most of what is given, with a touch of Brenton urgency. The second act digs some way below surfaces, drawing towards the suitably inflammatory conclusion.
Clement Attlee: John Mackay.
Lord Pethick-Lawrence/Sergeant: David Annen.
Cyril Radcliffe: Tom Beard.
Antonia Radcliffe: Abigail Cruttenden.
Village Elder/Gandhi/Justice Teja Singh: Tanveer Ghani.
Villager/Liaquat/Justice Din Mohammad: Simon Nagra.
Villager/Justice Mahajan: Neil D’Souza.
Young Villager/Rao V D Ayer: Nikesh Patel.
Young Villager/Aide to Nehru/Aide to Mahajan/Lord Krishna: Peter Singh.
Christopher Beaumont: Brendan Patricks.
Dalit Woman/Taravati/Refugee: Shalini Peiris.
Dalit Woman/Kalvati/Refugee: Salma Hoque.
Photographer/Aide to Nehru/Abeer/Chaudri: Rez Kempton.
Lord Mountbatten: Andrew Havill.
Lady Mountbatten: Lucy Black.
Nehru: Silas Carson.
Jinnah: Paul Bazely.
Director: Howard Davies.
Designer: Tim Hatley.
Sound: Mike Walker.
Composer: Nicki Wells.
Costume: Jack Galloway.
Assistant director: Will Wrightson.