Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Absorbing and meticulously researched play about Partition: Drawing the Line reviewed

Livestreaming this to the Indian subcontinent offers an irresistible financial opportunity to Hampstead Theatre

Howard Brenton's absorbing Drawing the Line, first performed and recorded at Hampstead Theatre. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Theatres have taken to the internet like never before. Recorded performances are being made available over the web, many for free. Getting Better Slowly is about a dancer, Adam Pownall, who spent two years fighting Guillain-Barré syndrome. This lucid and enjoyable show (recorded at Lincoln Drill Hall) now looks horribly topical. A young artist, paralysed by a mysterious disease, refuses to surrender and eventually reclaims his vigour and his ability to communicate. That could stand for the profession as a whole.

Hampstead Theatre offers a slate of three recorded plays. (Wild and Wonderland were reviewed in The Spectator on 30 June 2016 and 12 July 2014 respectively). Drawing the Line is about Cyril Radcliffe, the public official charged with overseeing the partition of India in 1947. He had no qualifications for the task and was ordered to separate the intermingled Hindu and Muslim populations in just six weeks. Howard Brenton’s absorbing and meticulously researched play develops into a series of entertaining vignettes. Attlee is shown as a self-satisfied ideologue determined to lift ‘the burden of colonisation’ even if it costs lives. ‘As socialists that is our duty. Of course it will be bloody.’ Edwina Mountbatten (Lucy Black) behaves like a giddy schoolgirl with a mad crush on the headmaster’s son. ‘I’ve fallen in love with you,’ she pants at Nehru, ‘and you are India.’ The middle-aged couple play the affair for laughs and rush off hand in hand for a quickie in a broom cupboard at the Viceroy’s residence.

Attlee is a self-satisfied ideologue determined to lift the burden of colonisation even if it costs lives

The portrait of Nehru (Silas Carson) shows him as a super-smooth political operator who conceals his anti-British sentiment beneath a veneer of erudition. During the talks, he flaunts his knowledge of Blake but in private he reflects darkly: ‘I quote their poets at them, and I smile and swallow my nausea at their ignorance.’

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