Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Zindabad by David Conville
The Mill, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
28th April – 7th May
The Mill Studio’s world premier staging of “Zindabad” presents an unexpectedly large dramatic experience in this small theatrical space. The title is the Urdu word for victory or patriotism and refers to Pakistan after partition by the British in 1947 and it's a tale of people in the grip of high passions, both political and personal. In the frightening social upheaval following the division of India into separate Muslim and Hindu states, law and order are overturned by angry murderous mobs of both factions. Against this violent background, a private story of illicit love, infidelity and divided loyalty is played out almost at our feet while history rages on screens above and beyond the comfortable living rooms inhabited by expatriate British landowners Nick and Sally Lawrence, Betty Swami the absent local commissioner’s wife, and the archaeologists Harry Lesseps and Mortimer Wheeler (the real-life TV archaeologist in the 1950’s).
The interwoven situations are fraught with danger for all the characters. For Harry Lesseps and his married lover Sally Lawrence, the danger at first seems mostly psychological, but more physically dangerous to them is the mob violence that hems them in. Tension mounts exponentially throughout the play as all the main protagonists gradually realise that they can no longer hope to control the people whom up to now they've employed and patronised under the British Empire.
The casting is perfect: Justin Butcher as the passionate Franco-Hindu Harry Lesseps is a brilliant foil for Andrew Wincott’s Nick, tight-lipped and arrogant as the wronged husband; Rebecca Johnson is the archetypal neglected wife who has been swept off her feet despite her moral scruples. Linda Thorson plays Betty Swami, the resilient long-term expat Englishwoman married to a Hindu, with delightful humour; Frank Barrie portrays Wheeler with equal charisma as a middle-aged charmer with a seductive eye for the ladies. The supporting roles of faithful servants (Antony Zaki and Ali), and vengeful rebellious ex-employee (Ranjit Krishnamma) complete the strong ensemble.
To achieve on the intimate stage of the Mill the effect of a cinematic historical blockbuster while treating the audience to engaging interplay among strongly drawn individual characters is a real feat by director Richard Digby Day and designer Tim Reed. David Conville, who wrote and produced “Zindabad”, inspired by his own Anglo-Indian upbringing, has created an absorbing drama that works on several levels. Not to be missed.
Janice Windle 29/04/2016