Just what possessed nationalist Nathuram Godse to carry out such a violent act and kill one of the world’s most well-known pacifists, Mahatma Gandhi? Anupama Chandrasekhar’s The Father and the Assassin, albeit fictionalised, ponders that question in a production which is punchy, expansive and unexpectedly funny.
There is a sense that Godse knows we condemn his actions, but he might as well try to change our minds anyway, and if not, he doesn’t care. What’s more interesting about this play is one man’s descent into fascism, the tiny moments which add up towards violence which transcends far beyond India. This isn’t a British play – there’s only the occasional mention of the colonisers – but the ways in which a story of nationalism and borders can extend to the Western world is plain to see. Yes, there’s a Brexit joke, but The Father and the Assassin is a fascinating case study into the psyche of an extreme nationalist – one outside our Western bubble, too.
Some may criticise the play for opting to explore the life of a murderer and fascist, and to an extent, humanise him. After all, Godse (dynamically performed by Shubham Saraf) addresses the audience with a childish playfulness – exaggerated, sarcastic, and abrasive. Yet, even though he is endearing to us, the magnitude of his actions and his horrific homogenist views of an independent Hindu India are not understated.
Paul Bazely’s joyfully jovial Gandhi underscores the issue with Godse early on. “Our wars may come in many forms,” he tells him. “On the battlefields, within ourselves… Our goal is the truth, always. You need to find the truth in here [our heads] first to fight any war out there.“ The issue, though, is that Godse has been denied that since childhood, raised as a girl due to a religious superstition that he would die prematurely as a man. Devoid of masculinity, it isn’t long before he is defined by other ‘father figures’ and their perception of what ‘truth’ really is (an intriguing idea, as I write this, given post-truth is a modern day concept) – one of whom is, of course, Gandhi. Another is the rebellious and cheeky school watchman Mithun, a role which could not be more perfect for The Bay actor and star of Deaf sitcom Small World, Nadeem Islam.
So much of the staging complements the ideology of Godse, too. In all honesty, David Shrubsole’s booming musical direction does drown out the dialogue a lot of the time, but it’s Rajha Shakiry’s sloping, rounded set atop the Olivier’s classic revolve which literally taps into our protagonist’s frustration that everything seems to be going around in circles. Is appeasement – or at least, what he interprets non-violent protest and diplomacy to be – truly justice, or peace? Godse doesn’t think so, but his solution ends up establishing the very things he hated.
Covering the assassination right through to the Partition of India, Chandrasekhar’s play is remarkably detailed and informative in the space of two-and-a-half hours, an epic perfectly suited for the Olivier stage.
The Father and the Assassin is now playing at the Olivier Theatre until 18 June.
Smart captions glasses are available for performances from 24 May, with captioned, British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted and audio described performances taking place on 4, 10 and 11 June respectively.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Father and the Assassin’ for free in exchange for a review of the press performance as a member of the media. While I know Nadeem Islam personally, all opinions stated above are honest and my own, and I did not receive payment for this article.