herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Performers share harrowing testimonies in a brave and powerful play

NIRBHAYA

Yael Farber.
Yael Farber.

This is difficult to watch. It's heart-breaking to listen to. But it's important. When is the last time you saw a show where the script is based almost entirely on its performers' real-life experiences? And they are certainly harrowing.

Nirbhaya isn't driven by plot, and it doesn't concern itself with heavy character exchanges. It's a stark and rather searing evening of storytelling. Only, they're not stories we're hearing from that dark stage - they're personal testimonies.

It all ties into the events surrounding a vicious act of sexual violence that occurred in Delhi, India on December 16, 2012. A young woman travelling home with a male friend on a bus was subjected to one of the most horrific, gender-based attacks in the country's history.

The incident, not to mention the international media coverage that followed, sparked a reaction among those who had kept years of violence and suffering in their homes a secret.

With renowned writer and director Yael Farber overseeing the project, five of the seven cast members before us recall personal moments of pain and terror. Their testimonies speak of child abuse, gang rape and bride-burning.

One of the performers, Sneha Jawale, recounts the details of her husband's abuse with such tearful anguish, you wonder how she works up the courage to repeatedly recall the events which left her entire face scarred.

But then, the whole idea of Nirbhaya (meaning "fearless one") is to break one's silence and help put an end to these deplorable acts of violence. One male cast member (Ankur Vikal) is required to take on a long line of nasty roles throughout this play. Again, it can't be easy, not least because of Farber's insistence that Nirbhaya do not hold back in its delivery and presentation.

Granted, it just about stops itself from going overboard, especially when re-enacting that dreadful December night in Delhi two years ago. But my God, it'll knock the wind out of you. You'll need a stiff drink afterwards.

An ominous soundtrack is unnerving and despite its powerful message and deeply moving performances, Nirbhaya doesn't quite know where it is headed. It's a call for change, but it doesn't have any answers. Nobody does. Nevertheless, it is an inspiring piece of work and one that should be seen by as many people as possible. 
Running until August 2 hhhhi

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