Santi & Naz, VAULT Festival

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By Tayo Olowo-okere

Santi and Naz are best friends living in a small Indian village just before the partition of India takes place. The story follows their relationship, and how the country’s political situation affects them both.

At the beginning, we see Santi (Rosie-Marie Christian) and Naz (Ashna Rabheru) playing and laughing while a speech by Mahatma Gandhi is played. There are some excellent, simple creative choices like a long, blue scarf as a river – it’s such a simple prop and looks great in the space. Beneath their feet is an enlarged outline of the map of India. This gives quite a clear picture of the play. There’s a lot going on, in their country, community and homes, but it’s all seen through them – through their jokes, banter, play and arguments.

Focusing on their friendship personalises the story, which is really important when it comes to key historical moments and how they are depicted in books and articles. It’s very easy to see yourself in these two – Santi is the studious bookworm, while Naz is more playful and brings out the fun and jokes in her. The chemistry between both actresses is so real and engaging, that it makes you feel like you’re living the experiences with them. No, I was not in India. I was in a room just below the Waterloo Station train tracks – but I saw everything and everyone they described. From the handsome shiny haired Rahul, to the older, spectacled Mahatma Gandhi they impersonated, they brought everyone to life.

It’s enjoyable to see their playfulness when Naz teases Santi about her crush on Rahul, and the way they easily burst into song ending in a fit of giggles. It’s made particularly clear how young they are when they would “eww” in unison about husbands and laugh about the future. However, it doesn’t take long before their friendship is affected by what is going on around them.

Santi is Sikh and Naz is Muslim, and the growing threats of the future become harder to avoid, especially in the context of their unresolved feelings for one other. With so many cultural, political and religious obligations impeding on them both, they aren’t given the time to fully express their feelings for each other. But it is visible from their lingering looks, extended hugs and the fear of Naz’ arranged marriage.

The factual retelling of history from all perspectives is important – and reviewing a play based on history is, too. Both the historical storyteller and the critic need to be accurate, honest and respectful. Though this story is based on historical events, we are seeing real people who are actually living through it. Santi & Naz is a great piece of writing that shows people trying to live in troubled times. It puts people in the centre of a really important moment in South Asian history.

Santi & Naz runs through 2 February.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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