Review: The Father and the Assassin, National Theatre

Hiran Abeysekera is brilliant in this inspired return of The Father and the Assassin to the National Theatre

“I guarantee once you get to know my story, once you truly understand me, you’ll celebrate me”

Returning to the Olivier Theatre after a very well received run last year, it is extremely tempting to see Anupama Chandrasekhar’s The Father and the Assassin as Indhu Rubasingham’s (second) audition for Artistic Director of the National Theatre. Fully embracing what a national theatre should be doing, providing opportunities for actors like these in stories like these on our biggest stages, it is also a truly exhilarating and illuminating drama.

On the face of it, The Father and the Assassin is the story of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by his former disciple Nathuram Godse. But right from the moment that the charismatic Godse takes the stage and declares himself the narrator of his own tale, it becomes clear that there’s more at play here, an exploration of how radicalisation takes hold, how nationalist mindsets rise up in a society, how easily self-mythological populist pomp can be whipped up.

Any fears I had about Shubham Saraf no longer playing Godse (one of my favourite performances from last year) were soon dispelled by a superb performance from Hiran Abeysekera, whose playful and pneumatic stage presence kicks in right from the off and doesn’t let go until the play’s end, during which he is hardly offstage. Godse’s story is hugely fascinating, his early life scarcely believable, developing the malleable personality that left him so susceptible to doctrine.

Set against this is the story of India’s journey to independence and the violent fallout from Partition, the sparseness of Rajha Shakiry’s revolving set allowing for real eloquence to accompany the broad swathes of history (that unravelling loom is a work of art). Paul Bazely’s Gandhi is a touch inscrutable, deliberately perhaps; Tony Jayawardena’s Vinayak a study in chilling fascism, contrasting with Marc Elliott’s elegant Nehru; and as Godse’s childhood friend Vimala, Aysha Kala offers a brilliantly sparky fresh perspective. Hugely recommended, again.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Father and the Assassin is booking at the National Theatre until 14th October

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