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Edinburgh Fringe 2013


Yael Farber

Genre: Verbatim Theatre

Venue: Assembly Hall


Low Down

Yael Farber (award winning director and playwright) brings this intense and upsetting performance based on the real life events of December 2012’s Gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23 year old medical student in Delhi. Seven performers, some of whom had never been on stage before, tell the story of these events. Five of the performers then individually step forward, inspired by the haunting ghost like image of Jyoti, dressed in white, wandering the stage, quietly singing, embodying feminine innocence and gentleness. They are unable to be silent any more, and tell their true stories of rape, sexual and emotional and violent abuse, attempted murder, child abduction, child abuse and gang rape. Using physical theatre with narration the stories weave in and out of each other and the performers create a symbiotic moving body of expression as the plots and emotions come tumbling out. The central theme of this bold and impressive show is Fearlessness…The horrific attack and murder of Jyoti becomes a catalyst, compelling others to speak out …we learn of the horrific injuries and frightening attack…we see the whole cast re-enact this terrifying event. The acting is never overly explicit; the images at times vague and ephemeral, but the overall impact on the audience is crystal clear and vivid. 


 One of the performer’s cuts to the heart of the pain as she narrates and mimes about her own experiences of sexual abuse as a child and that she felt she was always “Washing other people’s secrets from my body”. This show is rich in poetic language and bold self-expression. The performers use simple props to re-create horrific scenes. The image that stays with me is the darkness of the final scene of the gang rape on the Delhi bus… chairs are used and the performers wear black scarves sitting menacingly huddled and quiet…then the scene explodes as the boyfriend is dragged to the back of the bus pinned down by the gang, Jyoti screaming and fighting and struggling with all her might, then the male actor morphs quickly into the lead rapist and roaring bursts out of the huddled ‘men’ and attacks Jyoti with a viciousness and anger that is unbearable to watch. As a punishment for her defence he uses a rusting metal rod inserted into her vagina and draws back his arm, his crew all holding her down…we are prepared for what happens next…we learnt earlier in the story that her internal injuries had been so brutal that her intestines were pulled out by hand by one of the rapists. We are spared explicit visual details – the scene is created to suggest rather than show but there is enough to shock. We learn that she lay bleeding on the cold street and when finally the paramedics arrived, they wouldn’t touch her because they didn’t want her blood on them. Her boyfriend, despite being severely beaten himself, lifted her himself into the ambulance. She was in intensive care for 13 days before she finally died. It’s utterly horrific. The performers, together evoking the images of the dusty, busy, loud, uncaring streets of Delhi  roar their rising horror as they hear this story every day on the news…connected to her through ‘static lines’…unable to think of anything else…the moment has come for sisters to come together and shout loudly together…this must never happen again.

If the audience started to think that perhaps this was an ‘Indian’ cultural issue, the final story challenges as we learn of the horrific gang rape of one of the performers after leaving the oppressiveness of her Indian society….”I’ve come a long way from Delhi to be gang raped in America”. You may never look at our societies, Indian culture, or maybe even Indian men the same way again. Which may be a weakness of the show, maybe not. I feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea that ALL men in India behave in this way and I very much hope they don’t. But the fact that all the women on stage have gone through these experiences and insist it is wide spread and prevalent, engrained in their culture, made its ‘commonality’ very difficult to ignore.
The only male actor was outstanding in the way he flipped seamlessly from each character…to sweet gentle respectful boyfriend to sickening rage filled rapist to seedy grabbing uncle to lost frightened child to unflinching witness to the burned woman’s truth. It takes sensitivity, skill and fearlessness to enable the women on stage to tell their story effectively and he did everything to make his characters as real and vivid as possible, thus not diminishing the truth of their words. He was masterful in his ability to work without ego and give himself entirely to the performance.
Yaeber has created a new narrative in self-referential art that is no longer the medium for expression through a third party. This is not a play exploiting a sensational story. This is not a play about stories of individuals. This goes beyond witness or verbatim theatre. The storytellers are the speakers of their own story but through their own story they speak for Jyoti and the hundreds of thousands of girls and women who can’t speak out. They hold a mirror to modern life. Each hand raised to be counted – start to merge and flow as one…connected…becoming stronger as their individual stories join hands to shout out what can no longer be ignored. What makes this show outstanding is the way in which Art and life blurs in front of us and the medium is used as a form of personal catharsis and empowerment that enriches the process of theatrical activism. This can’t be reviewed as simply Theatre – to do that would neccessitate picking apart some minor theatrical issues. To describe those would ignore the aim of this piece, which intends to create a collective experience, accentuated by not using all professional performers, creating a synergistic authentic truth. The impact of the rawness of the stories was made on the audience and met the aims of the production. The bravery of the performers is humbling. This is Art at its highest purpose…bearing witness…inspiring change…strengthening the power of speaking truth. Farber comes on stage at the end, thanking the audience for their presence – reminding us that the performance cannot come into existence without our respectful act of witnessing. She tells us that another gang rape has occurred, only a few days ago, this time in Mumbai and we are reminded of the urgent timeliness of this performance.
This is not a ‘play’; this is a call to arms.


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