Anyone who has attempted to write a radio play will tell you one thing – it’s hard. Creating characters who have no faces, creating locations without visuals, avoiding clumsy scene-setting dialogue (“Oh, look at the battered old farmhouse!”). It’s important to remember this when attending Partition, a collaborative project from the West Yorkshire Playhouse and BBC Radio Leeds. Because if creating a radio play is hard, creating a stage play that’s also a radio play must be even harder.
In this bizarre construct, Partition presents the recording of a radio play as theatre. It’s all about what is heard, rather than seen, and the art of Foley (the creation of recorded sound effects) is used to comical effect. There is a gravel pit for outdoor scenes, a door to be slammed, pots to be banged and a pair of rubber gloves that, when flapped, sounds startlingly like the wings of birds. Hilariously, the stage manager moves surreptitiously around the stage creating these sounds as the actors read their lines.
The theme of what is heard, rather than seen, fits nicely into the story of Partition. Seventy years ago, India gained independence from the British Raj and was divided into two dominions, India and Pakistan. In the mass migration of Muslims moving to Pakistan and Sikhs and Hindus moving to India, more than a million people died. Communities that had previously co-existed peacefully turned on each other with brutal violence.
Partition is set in modern times, as Sikh boy Ranjit and his Muslim fiancée Saima plan their wedding. Both have heard of the historical animosity between their religions, but can only see their love for one another. As their respective families come to terms with the outrage of this communion, stories are told about the bloody history of the Indian Partition and we see the effects this still has on second and third-generation British Asians.
The history may be harrowing, but the story here is one of love and acceptance. This is a whimsical piece of theatre, playing off the humour of radio actors portraying more than one character on stage. In the hysterical climatic wedding scene, Balvinder Sopal simultaneously plays the vicar, the witness and the mother of the bride, throwing herself around the stage to physicalise every role.
It’s definitely a gimmick, but one that has its own charm and energy. Managing to bundle a history lesson, a love story, and a theatrical experiment into one evening, Partition is certainly it’s own beast and a very enjoyable one at that.