However, in its specifics, Lions and Tigers tells a story far less often told, which is, at its core, highly personal and moving. The plot follows the true story of writer Tanika Gupta’s great uncle, Dinesh Gupta, who, along with two other Bengali revolutionaries, killed a British official. Parallel to this personal story, Gupta illustrates discussions and debates between the highest profile figures in Indian politics during the 1930s: Gandhi, Nehru, and Bose.
The play also deals well with lesser-known aspects of the struggle for Indian independence, most notably the role of women and the ugly colonial past on the Andaman Islands. Kamala, expertly played by Shalini Peiris, acts as a strong voice of opposition to her brother-in-law Dinesh, advocating a nonviolent approach to revolution. Conversely, the play's other female character, Bimala, encourages violence, as her brutal treatment as a prisoner on the Andaman Islands led her to encourage others to die and kill for their country.
Lions and Tigers directly confronts the realities of colonial rule in India in some distressing scenes, but don't be fooled – it is also packed with humour, bringing a refreshing honesty and warmth to the action. The intimate setting of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, illuminated by candlelight throughout, infuses the drama with a soul which makes the play’s violence hit home.
Special recognition must also go to Arun Ghosh's skilful musical accompaniment, which helped to keep pace even when historical contextualisation looked set to derail the play’s voice – a lot of history had to be crammed in, and whilst at times it fitted, in other places it felt a little stilted. The play may have benefited from more focus on Dinesh's personal story and less on the broader political narrative.
Still, striking this balance was always going to be a challenge for a story where history and legacy play such a pivotal role. Moreover, this is a relatively minor criticism of a play that is otherwise a beautiful illustration of the complexity of one man's fight for freedom, and an enlightening discussion of an event too often neglected and misrepresented in British history books.
|What||Lions and Tigers, Wanamaker Playhouse review|
|Where||Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 21 New Globe Walk, London, SE1 9DT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
23 Aug 17 – 16 Sep 17, Saturday matinees begin at 2.30pm
|Price||£10 - £62|
|Website||Click here for tickets and more information|