Theatre Review: Nirbhaya


As brave as the title suggests, Nirbhaya, is a hard hitting and evocative piece of theatre that transcends language and image, says Peter Roche.


On December 16, 2012, a 23 year-old medical student in Delhi attended a showing of Life of Pi with a male friend. She was in a rush to get home so her mother wouldn’t worry, but they were having trouble getting a taxi. At the same time, in another part of Delhi, a bus driver and some friends were drinking. They had just mugged a carpenter and were looking for their next victim. And so Jyoti Singh Pandey’s fate was sealed when she boarded what she thought was a chartered bus.

Her friend was beaten, and she herself was so brutally raped that she died of her injuries in hospital 13 days later. Legally prevented from naming her in the press, she was given the pseudonym Nirbhaya, which means ‘fearless one’ in Hindi.

While rape is endemic in India, something about the story broke the silence that hangs around that terrible crime and ignited the anger of millions. Nirbhaya was born out of this anger.

Nirbhaya sees lauded playwright Yael Farber directing a wholly Indian cast of six women and a man. Of the cast five are professional actors, while the other two are known for their work with charitable organisations among other pursuits. There is a sense of gravity as soon as the cast take to the stage, not least as the front of the program reminds us that the play is based upon the performers’ own real life experiences.

Indeed, you would be forgiven for believing that the stories that unfold are fictional, they are so horrific. One by one the six women on the stage tell their stories of abuse and together encompass a litany of horrors – child abuse, institutionalised rape, gang rape, being set on fire.

This piece is so powerful as a play because the performers actively seem to challenge us as they look into the audience at the humanity that has wounded them so. Indeed the limitations of the stage encourage us to imagine what is almost unimaginable – rolls of fabric and metal bars are used to conjure in our minds what a screen never could. The script also manages to bring the point home like a hot iron.

Throughout the stories a narrative is woven that ties the most heinous acts to the everyday abuses – being felt up on the bus, catcalled, or told that how you act or dress means ‘you deserve it’. Nor is it limited in scope to India, and one of the performer’s story explicitly occurs in Chicago.

Nirbhaya is a rousingly angry and relevant piece of theatre. Indeed writing about it is almost futile as its express purpose is to stir people in a way that words and images cannot. The events that are described in it are abominable, but we are bombarded by the abominable every day and so we build a wall against it. Nirbhaya seeks to leap that wall.


Nirbhaya runs at The Pavillion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire from Monday 21 July – Saturday 2 August. Tickets are €25/€22 (concession), available from the Pavilion Box Office (01 231 2929) or online (no booking fee).


© 2014 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.