Review by Daz Gale
Productions at National Theatre are proving to be unstoppable lately with recent productions The Motive and the Cue and Dear England transferring to the West End in the coming months along with a return West End run for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Also returning, in a different capacity, is their 2022 production The Father and the Assassin which takes up another residency in the Olivier Theatre this year. Having missed the show the first time around, I knew I had to catch it this time around. I had heard only good things about it from its last run but would I agree that this was a killer show?
The Father and the Assassin tells the story of Mohandas Gandhi and the man who killed him, Nathuram Godse. Charting the decades that led up to his death in 1948, the show explores the surprising truth between Nathuram's origins, his first meeting witg Gandhi and what led them to form their own differing paths as India fought for independence, which led to that fateful and conclusive interaction.
Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar, The Father and the Assassin takes an interesting mix of history and fiction to create an imagined version of what might have actually transpired. Using historic facts from both their lives, Anupama also uses artistic license to create an interesting blend, adding to the dramatization but never feeling insulting to a legendary figure. With Gandhi (Paul Bazely) himself taking a much smaller role in this story, the main part goes to that of assassin Nathuram Godse (Hiran Abeysekera) whose complicated story unfolds with care and patience as well as a surprising amount of humour. The overall writing is exemplary, allowing for a compelling watch.
The story comes to life thanks to fantastic direction from Indhu Rubasignham who takes the large and versatile space of the Olivier Theatre and makes sure the action plays out as effortlessly as possible for maximum impact. A minimalistic stage designed by Rajha Shakiry reveals itself to be full of brilliant tricks including a great use of the revolve. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design is at times inspired, with a gorgeous use of shadows ensuring this is always a beautiful show visually. At times, shows like this can see a clash in different production elements, giving the sense of a confused and inconsistent production – that is not a problem here, with all elements tying together tremendously in a well realised manner.
In the lead role of Nathuram Godse, Hiran Abeysekera is outstanding to watch. From the moment he first appears on stage, breaking the fourth wall wearing a blood-splattered shirt, there is an unexpected charm to his character that allows us to invest in his journey, knowing full well the unspeakable act he committed at the end. Through the nature of the character, Hiran delivers a challenging performance showcasing his versatility as an actor and always rising to the occasion. A slow-burn in growth for the character sees Hiran go on a journey with him and deliver a truly remarkable performance overall, impressing at every turn.
Though his stage time is more limited than you might expect, Paul Bazely’s appearance as Gandhi always delights. Through his stoic nature, Paul gives what feels like an authentic portrayal though the unexpected bouts of laughter during points in the story allows him to have fun with a role that you may not have expected to be full of laughs. Together with Hiran, Paul has a great rapport, meaning each interaction is completely engaging. This is also true for every other character he speaks to, in a commanding performance.
Other highlights among the consistently impressive cast include Nadeem Islam as Mithun, once again demonstrating National Theatre’s ability to incorporate accessibility in their performances, with BSL used in his scenes. Ayesha Dharker gives a great portrayal as Aai with Sid Sagar another highlight as Narayan Apte. Truth be told though, this is a cast with no weak link whatsoever with each of them impressive in their own right.
The Father and the Assassin is the kind of show National Theatre do best. Taking one of the most famous men from the 20th Century and telling a part of that story in a way that hasn’t been done before, while adding dramatized elements of fiction in there works flawlessly, with Anupama Chandrasekhar’s writing wowing at every turn. Surprising in terms of its themes, there are some real laugh-out-loud lines of dialogue along with more powerful moments as the differing attitudes towards Partition are explored.
Certain moments are more difficult to watch with a truly affecting moment section nearing the show's climax which describes some of the atrocities that were committed. That powerful over-arching rheme creates a fascinating show that simultaneously entertains and educates, all the while lingering on your mind. It is clear to see why this show was so loved last year, and why it is sure to win over more audiences this time around.
The Father and the Assassin plays at the Olivier Theatre until 14th October. Tickets from https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
Photos by Marc Brenner