Friday, 6 October 2017

Review Child Of The Divide

Catherine Kelly finds joy and sadness in a play facing up to a traumatic moment in India and Pakistan's history.

Child Of The Divide
by Sudha Bhuchar
based on the story of Bhisham Sahni

Born Of A Fragile Land

Imagine yourself at five years old. Suddenly your parents are fleeing from your home as the country is split in two and a new border created. In the chaos your hand slips from your Dad's grasp and you find yourself alone.  

Child Of The Divide is a family-friendly, heart-rending, poetic tale focussing on little Pali lost during the chaos of forced migration in 1947 Partition when India was divided into majority Hindu India and majority Muslim Pakistan. 

Pali is saved, given a new identity, name, faith and  home by a kindly Muslim couple, only for his young life to be torn apart again when, years later, his birth father finds him. 

This is the story of individual, blameless citizens left to cope with the consequences of imperial retreat, a subject already amply dealt with in  productions such as Drawing The Line and movie The Viceroy House.

Child Of The Divide, adapted by Sudha Bhuchar from a story by Bhisham Sahni, was first produced eleven years ago and is now revived to mark 70 years since Partition.

Karan Gill gives a tender, eloquent central performance as the little boy in Jim Pope's quick moving production in Polk Theatre's comfortable, intimate space. 

A large map backdrop from designer Sue Mayes keeps the physical geography and the man-made red line of the new border between the two nations in constant view and  in the minds of the audience..

The versatile set turns into a variety of locations, whether a hectic train station, a mosque, a river or playground.  Carefully-chosen props - luggage, a bed frame, boxes, bags - evoke the meagre but vital possessions of the refugees. Peter Harrison's lighting with sound by Arun Ghosh set the tone with exquisite precision in each scene, drawing the audience into this topsy turvey world.

Devesh Kishore and Halima Hussain as Pali's adoptive father and birth mother respectively and doubling as two children also divided from their families manage to give clearly defined and poignant performances. However, it  is a complex story, with a seven year span, to fit on an intimate stage with a cast of five adults playing all characters on both sides of the divide and a wide age range. 

Alongside the fast-paced scenes, the doubling up can be challenging for audience trying to keep track and more use of  props and character traits might have helped.

There is some unevenness in the performances with more work needed on projection of dialogue and clarity of exposition. The audience were left sometimes straining just to enjoy the poetic language and understand the discussion of ideas in the play.

Nevertheless there's enough there to indicate the production and cast will resolve these issues once the production is bedded in during its two week run at the Polka and on the following  UK tour.

Otherwise this is a remarkable play bringing home  the experience of displaced millions through one small child.  One of its strongest aspects is in conveying the tug of love of the two mothers, one grieving for an incalculable loss and the other, childless, joyful at finding a longed-for son. whom she protects and cares for against all the odds.

Deep and heavy stuff, you may think, as a play intended audience for seven to 14 year olds. However, by not underestimating its young audience, Child Of The Divide takes on an added resonance for both adults and children.

Offsetting the darker issues and outer and inner conflicts, there are still plenty of lighter, fun scenes of children simply playing together, enjoying a rollicking good game. Stimulating and heartfelt, this courageous, life affirming play fully deserves an amber/green light. 

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