Theatre: Drawing the Line

By Evans, Lloyd | The Spectator, April 11, 2020 | Go to article overview

Theatre: Drawing the Line


Evans, Lloyd, The Spectator


Theatres have taken to the internet like never before. Recorded performances are being made available over the web, many for free. Getting Better Slowly is about a dancer, Adam Pownall, who spent two years fighting Guillain-Barré syndrome. This lucid and enjoyable show (recorded at Lincoln Drill Hall) now looks horribly topical. A young artist, paralysed by a mysterious disease, refuses to surrender and eventually reclaims his vigour and his ability to communicate. That could stand for the profession as a whole.

Hampstead Theatre offers a slate of three recorded plays. (Wild and Wonderland were reviewed in The Spectator on 30 June 2016 and 12 July 2014 respectively). Drawing the Line is about Cyril Radcliffe, the public official charged with overseeing the partition of India in 1947. He had no qualifications for the task and was ordered to separate the intermingled Hindu and Muslim populations in just six weeks. Howard Brenton’s absorbing and meticulously researched play develops into a series of entertaining vignettes. Attlee is shown as a self-satisfied ideologue determined to lift ‘the burden of colonisation’ even if it costs lives. ‘As socialists that is our duty. Of course it will be bloody.’ Edwina Mountbatten (Lucy Black) behaves like a giddy schoolgirl with a mad crush on the headmaster’s son. ‘I’ve fallen in love with you,’ she pants at Nehru, ‘and you are India.’ The middle-aged couple play the affair for laughs and rush off hand in hand for a quickie in a broom cupboard at the Viceroy’s residence.

The portrait of Nehru (Silas Carson) shows him as a super-smooth political operator who conceals his anti-British sentiment beneath a veneer of erudition. During the talks, he flaunts his knowledge of Blake but in private he reflects darkly: ‘I quote their poets at them, and I smile and swallow my nausea at their ignorance.’ Paul Bazely plays Jinnah as a tortured ascetic who likes whisky but loathes the culture that introduced him to it. ‘Allah protect us,’ he yells when he learns that the colonists plan to ‘take a meat cleaver to our country’. And he offers this astute analysis of Britain’s preference for Hinduism over Islam. ‘The British will always favour the Hindus. They think their religion is pretty.’ The character of Gandhi (Tanveer Ghani) is disappointing, a detached and cryptic presence without eloquence or charisma.

Andrew Havill’s Mountbatten starts off as a mischievous, fun-loving charmer. ‘They call me the master of disaster in the navy. …

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