Power seems to be the through-line of Pink Sari Revolution, the scorching new play that is ending its UK tour at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The story of one woman’s fight against domestic abuse, this play shows how sexual degradation of women is frighteningly commonplace in India – and makes us think about how male power is asserted all across the world.
But rather than being a ‘thought piece’ or chin-stroking ‘play with a message’, this is a captivating piece of theatre. With a nuanced script and a twisty-turny true story at its heart, this play may be the crown of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s critically-acclaimed 2017 show run.
Pink Sari Revolution tells the story of activist Sampat Pal Devi and her feminist movement, the Gulabi Gang (literally translated as the ‘Pink Gang’). Adorning their iconic pink saris, the Gulabi Gang have fought for women’s rights the last twenty-five years. But rather than give us historical scope, Pink Sari Revolution hones in one particular event: the rape and imprisonment of a low-caste underage girl by a local politician.
And this is where the play’s success lies: phenomenal character development and a cracking story. It’s unutterably refreshing to see such a charged and impassioned play that allows us a glimpse into every perspective on every side of the argument. Sampat Pal may spread her message, but there’s no preaching here – every character gets their say. The only unheard voice is that of the abusive politician, but that’s perhaps the point. Women in rural India may be shamed, named and blamed, but the voice of authority is unquestioned. The ‘man’ always wins.
It is testament to Purva Naresh’s compelling script that the audience is never allowed to take a side. We understand why the female doctor refuses to treat the rape victim. We understand why the politician’s wife is defending her rapist husband. We even understand why the rape victim herself is rejecting the hand of support that Sampat Pal offers. In this story, there aren’t victims and heroes. There are just people with complex lives and equally complex motivations.
Which isn’t to say that Pink Sari Revolution is in any way inaccessible or hard to watch. The story is riveting, peppered with welcome moments of humour, and the production is bolstered by clever moments of theatrical trickery (“how did she get down from the tree?”) that never undermine the story. The set is a giant, twisted tree that both resembles a hand reaching for help and reflects the intertwined relationships between the characters. Everything fits just perfectly.
Like its fiery protagonist, Pink Sari Revolution isn’t a perfect creature. There’s perhaps one waffling moment too many and a scene featuring the media feels incongruous with the play’s tone, but this is a show that demands your attention. Powerful but un-preachy, layered but entertaining, this is a play that demands to be seen – just go.
Pink Sari Revolution will be playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 11th November. Tickets can be bought here.