Nirbhaya @ Assembly Hall

Review by Stephanie Green | 20 Aug 2013

'Nirbhaya' means 'Fearless,' the name the girl gang-raped on a Delhi bus in December 2012 was given by the press since her horrific ordeal and subsequent death broke the silence surrounding sexual and physical violence against women and children in India, and brought thousands onto the streets in protest, hitting the world's headlines.

I was a little nervous about what I was going to have to face, given the harrowing subject of this play, but Nirbhaya first appears spot-lit in her white sari singing in a high, beautiful voice. Other women in black enter with one hand raised, for this is a ritualised memorial as much as a play, honouring the girl's suffering, but also that of several other individual women and children who have endured physical or sexual violence (and not only in India) and whose stories are told here. Though the appalling details are not shirked, they are conveyed by narration and other distancing effects which add gravity to the piece, until the end when Nirbhaya's horrific rape is enacted graphically, albeit symbolically, by women shrouded in black, not male actors.

It almost feels invasive to comment as a critic but this is a play; as such, there were too many stories to absorb, which weakened its impact. But in the foyer afterwards, noticing some audience members weeping and embracing the cast, I realised that this was a real life experience for them and can only hope this offered some form of therapy for them. A devastating, thought-provoking play. 

Nirbhaya @ Assembly Hall, 4pm, until 26 Aug, various prices