Theatre carries a message. By it’s nature, the plot of a play aims to affect the audience in some way. As an audience member, when I got the theatre I expect to leave feeling something I could not have felt before the show. For some plays this aim could be to transfer a fact, or an emotion, or an awareness of something to the audience. I have only seen one show where I would classify its aim as a plea.
On the night of December 16th 2012 a young woman and her male friend boarded a bus in urban Delhi heading for home. What followed changed the lives of these two people and countless others forever. Nirbhaya begins by telling the story of one girl who was sexually assualted and died at 4:45am 14 days later. She was raped for hours on a moving bus, and sustained internal injuries to vital organs from a sharp iron rod insertion. The play progresses to tell stories of other women who were victims of sexual violence – the cast. The actresses told their own stories. One still had scars from where she had been doused in kerosene and set alight. Another was gangraped in New York. Nirbhaya does not attempt to pass the blame or point the finger at anyone – man or woman. It purely intends to raise awareness, and operates under the phrase ‘raise your hand and break the silence’. The reason I found this play so powerful was that it was pleading about something no-one ever talks about. We like to pretend it’s not happening. But it is happening. One in three women will experience sexual violence at some point in their life. The play is pleading its audiences to speak out against this. We have to confront it. We can’t let it go on in silence. Staying for the post show discussion, one of the things that struck me the most was that some of the actresses telling their story had not even told their parents or partners. One of the actresses told her mother half an hour before opening night. This is real. These actresses aren’t assuming other roles, they are being brave an telling their story to help others. The play has been a hit at Edinburgh Fringe, has played in London as part of the Women of the World festival and transfers to India later this month. It is making its way around the world, breaking the silence. Their plea was to the audience – “continue to break the silence after we have moved on. Share, retweet, spread the word and break the silence.” So let’s do that. This is protest theatre. This is breaking a social taboo on behalf of both men and women who have had their human rights removed. We have to break the silence. I attach some links and a video which I urge you to look at. It simply reinforces what I am saying.
Is protest theatre right? Of course it is. We have freedom of expression. Is Nirbhaya theatre or a documentary? Of course it’s theatre. We just happen to be told the stories by the victims themselves. Theatre always has a message. Some plays have a more powerful message than others. But Nirbhaya? By far the most powerful I’ve ever seen. The thing that struck me was how brave these performers are, yet also how scared they are. The responsibility lies with everyone to confront the matter and break the silence. Not just men. Not just women. Everyone.
Break the silence.
Nirbhaya plays at the Southbank Centre in London until the 12th March before going on tour.