Review: Option, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“How can security not be our agenda”

Amit Gupta’s Option was my favourite of the plays that made up the first part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history, and probably the best of the entire collection. It centres on the debates and soul-searching of three Indian nuclear scientists in 1968: Professor Akram representing the past and a link to Gandhi’s founding principles, Dr Mishra a member of the government negotiating the extremely tricky waters around the intense pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Prakash an idealistic young man whose scientific passion promises much for the future.

As China tests its own nuclear weapons and bitter enemy Pakistan increases its efforts to secure its own, India found itself torn between looking after the security of its own nation and succumbing to the international pressure to agree to the US/Soviet Union pact that would see them back down from arming. The geopolitics of the history of nuclear whatnot is normally most focused on the key players of the USA and USSR with little consideration for the realities on the ground in countries caught in their own mini-Cold Wars.

I found this to be an utterly engrossing and fascinating piece of drama, the subject matter one that was new to me but rich in potential as it really threw up the dilemma faced by India, a country that had only recently gained its hard-earned independence but was instantly thrust into regional conflict. And it is this clash of idealism and pragmatism that just seemed so much more tragically moving here than I ever would have expected, mainly due to the even-handedness of Gupta’s characterisations, perhaps a little archetypal but so much more convincing in their arguments because of it.

The way in which the optimism of Paul Bhattacharjee’s grizzled Professor is ground down, as the suspicions of the time fall even on such a patriot as he, is beautifully done; the handsome Tariq Jordan essays the earnestness of the brilliant young Prakash perfectly; and Shereen Martin brings a deep compassion to Divya, the former student of the Professor who is desperately looking for a middle ground for all parties so that their work on civil nuclear engineering isn’t lost.

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