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A CurtainUp London London Review
Drawing The Line

"Life is like a hand of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will." — Nehru
Peter Singh as the Lord Krishna and Tom Beard as Justice Radcliffe, Robert Webb as Ross and Sarah Hadland as Rosy (Photo: Manuel HarlanAlastair Muir)
Howard Davies directs Howard Brenton's play about 1947 India when a British judge was given just six weeks to determine a fair boundary between India and Pakistan. I welcome a historical political play for the debate it can reopen and with the cabinet papers sealed for many years, the evidence revealed by research. The Western Powers leaving Asian countries is also a current topic with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan.

The remarkable true story of the play is the task given by Prime Minister Clement Atlee (John Mackay) to Cyril Radcliffe (Tom Beard) that he would be able to draw the boundary with no prior knowledge of India in such a short length of time, the British having already announced their departure date. In fact we are told the nearest Radcliffe had been to India was Venice. It is also true that after the border was announced millions of people fled from their homes to go to the country which better matched their religion and the theatre programme tells us that the estimates as to how many died varied from 300,000 to a million.

The task of course is an impossible one as logical lines go through railway lines leaving one rail in India and the other in Pakistan. So intermixed are the people there is no sensible solution.

The later heads of state, Jawaharlal Nehru (Silas Carson) and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Paul Bazeley), are seen trying to influence Radcliffe's map and Radcliffe is portrayed as suffering from a prolonged case of Delhi Belly while trying to reach a fair decision. Lord Mountbatten (Andrew Havill) is Viceroy of India and his rich wife Edwina (Lucy Black) identifies with the Indian cause and in the play is having an affair with Nehru.

No play on India would be complete without the wizened figure in dhoti of Gandhi (Tanveer Ghani) but the scene in Gandhi's house (complete with his lone possession, a spinning wheel to spin khadi, the cloth which freed Indians from colonial cloth) doesn't ring true. It sounds like a scene from one of those historical dramas for Schools Education where instead of a natural conversation, political ideas are represented and debated. Gandhi completely distanced himself from the partition of India.

The sets by Tim Hatley have detailed plaster work and Rick Fisher's subtle lighting and the sounds of India create the atmosphere in India as the British Raj makes its departure. I loved the appearance of the blue God Krishna (Peter Singh) as Cyril Radcliffe reads the Bhagavad Gita for inspiration. East and West Pakistan only last until 1971 when Bangladesh breaks away from Pakistan.

In the final scene behind a screen the border is seen breaking into flames.

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Drawing The Line
Written by Howard Brenton
Directed by Edward HallHoward Davies

Starring: John Mackay, Tom Beard, Andreww Havill, Lucy Black, Silas Carson, Paul BazelyTamzin Outhwaite, Barnaby Kay, Issy van Randwyck, Nicholas Rowe, Bel Powley, Sarah Hadland, Robert Webb, Ifan Huw Dafydd
With: David Annen, Abigail Ctruttenden, Tanveer Ghani, Simon Nagra, Neil D'Souza, Nikesh Patel, Peter Singh, Brendan Patricks, Shalini Peiris, Salma Hoque, Rez Kempton,
Designed by Jonathan Fensom,Tim Hatley
Composer: Simon SlaterNicki Wells
Lighting: Rick Fisher
Sound: Matt Mackenzieike Walker
Costume Designer: Jack Galloway
Running time: Two hours 105 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 11th January 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th December 24th October 2013 performance at the Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3EU(Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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