Azma Dar’s fascinating history play Noor shines a much deserved spotlight on an undersung war hero at Southwark Playhouse
“I come from so many places but don’t belong to any of them”
As Remembrance Sunday wheels around again, it seems incredible that a story like that of Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan’s can remain so underserved and largely unheralded. As a particular fan of stories about women in WWII, I indict my own negligence here too but fortunately, writer Azma Dar and Kali Theatre are on hand with this highly atmospheric production of Noor.
Born to an Indian Muslim family with royal connections and brought up in an itinerant lifestyle across Europe, her studies at the Sorbonne led to composing music, writing poems and children’s stories but as war broke out, she enlisted as a wireless operator and spy, despite being warned that average life expectancy for those performing these missions was just 6 weeks.
Dar builds her biodrama around a framing device of higher-ups trying to work out what has happened to Noor since she lost contact with them but as Noor herself enters the conversation, her own mode of storytelling comes into play, her Sufi heritage and innate pacifism shaping her actions inimitably and providing a little respite from the dread-filled progress of Noor’s life undercover and the inevitabality of what is to come.
Poonam Brah’s direction is evocative and characterful, utilising Nancy Kettle’s movement and the canniness of Helen Coyston’s traverse stage design to conjure a beguiling fluidity throughout. There are moments when the script seems too dense, conveying so much information and touching on huge themes and perhaps predictably, they’re not all explored in as much depth as one might wish for. But Annice Boparai leads the cast with aplomb as Noor, supported by gorgeous work from Caroline Faber as her mentor, dealing with the complexity of her own situation as well as the guilt too rarely seen from senior officers.