Review: The Father and the Assassin, National Theatre

Rajha Shakiry’s gorgeous design, Shubham Saraf’s astounding lead performance, so much to love about Anupama Chandrasekhar’s phenomenal The Father and the Assassin at the National Theatre

“What are you staring at? Have you never seen a murderer up close before?”

Too often, plays can feel stranded in the cavernous space of the Olivier Theatre but between them, writer Anupama Chadrasekhar and director Indhu Rubasingham fill it phenomenally well with The Father and the Assassin, currently taking the National Theatre by storm to complete a hat-trick of cracking productions on at the minute.

The Father and the Assassin tackles nationalist mindsets through the prism of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by his former follower Nathuram Godse. Chandrasekhar has Godse narrate the show with a cheeky glint in his eye from the outset. But more than aware that this version of events is going to be one-sided, she introduces a counter-perspective to challenge his self-mythologising and introduce genuine political debate.

It’s a canny way of setting up the show, as it allows Shubnam Saraf’s Godse to relay all manner of info-dumps about India’s fight for independence as he relates that struggle to his own childhood which was marked by his parents raising him as a girl. And as his adherence to Gandhi’s policy of non-violence is warped into very much the opposite, there’s a real humanity to the way in which the journey to radicalisation is presented – we see all too clearly how it can happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

And Rubasingham demonstrates a masterful touch in allowing fast-flowing currents to imbue the whole production with real urgency. As we slip from past to present, from crowd scenes to intimate confrontations, the fluidity of the staging, with its 19-strong company, is extraordinary, backed by the eloquence of Rajha Shakiry’s design with its loom weaving together strands (of history itself?).

Saraf is astonishing with his tireless lead performance, Paul Bazely’s Gandhi is rightfully mercurial and the likes of Ayesha Dharker, Sagar Arya and Marc Elliott also impress. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting is phenomenal throughout, frequently casting iconic silhouettes. It is just an excellent piece of theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Father and the Assassin is booking at the National Theatre until 18th June 

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