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Nirbhaya (Edinburgh Fringe)

This play at Assembly Hall examines the extent of abuse against women in India, in the wake of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi last year

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Poorna Jagannathan and Priyanka Bose in Nirbhaya
© William Burdett-Coutts

Before the lights go down at the start of Nirbhaya, the stewards remind people that if they leave mid-show, there is no readmittance. Initially this seems over-diligent, but by the end, necessary. Nirbhaya is one of the hardest experiences an audience can face.

In December 2012, a young girl was gang raped on a bus as it travelled through central Delhi. She later died of the horrific injuries she sustained. This served as a catalyst for women in India who have suffered abuse in silence to come forward, tell their story, and bring an end to the misery. In the Assembly Main Hall, five of these accounts are dramatised, each by an actress with first-hand experience.

The bravery and importance of this play are beyond question, and while the truth of these stories gives Nirbhaya its unbearable potency, the design, lighting and performances make this production's status as a work of theatre more than valid. Bus windows suspended from wires swing freely across the stage, suggesting that a sick society can lash out at anyone, and the character of Nirbhaya floats around the action, binding performers and audience into the wider responsibility of bringing an end to the brutality.

There is the feeling of being trapped while watching Nirbhaya; the descriptions of events are utterly sickening, and yet the stories must not be ignored. Nirbhaya speaks out against the complicity of staying silent, and while this play may be too much for many to endure, it is an unforgettable and beautifully crafted piece of theatre.

- Tom Sudron

Nirbhaya continues at the Assembly Hall until 26 August 2013