Edinburgh Fringe 2022
After the war, Vera Atkins is to be found reflecting on one agent, a wireless operator, she sent into France with the codename, Madelaine. Operators had an incredibly short life expectancy, however, Noor Inayat Khan, born in Moscow, of an Indian Muslim father and American mother from Albuquerque, who was raised in France, speaking French fluently made her a perfect candidate for being dropped behind enemy lines. A confirmed pacifist, she had found a vocation and way of helping defeat Nazi tyranny. As Atkins shows us, from her initial interview with Khan, through the story of her being dropped in the moonlight in France and her work, from getting the quickest message to London after being dropped, meeting a Gary Cooper lookalike, encountering a very helpful young German Officer to her arrest we are taken back in time. It leads Atkins to a train journey on her way to interrogate the Gestapo Officer responsible for Khan’s arrest and interrogation, Atkins meets the ghost of Khan and gets some redemption or comfort.
If there is ever a story which deserves to be told this is truly one example of it. It has drama, derring do, stiff upper lip, the type of Boys’ Own Victor story if a childhood spent believing HIS tory, rather than a rounded version of the past is appealing. As a piece of theatre designed to celebrate the best of what women can do, this works very well.
The script manages, through a series of flashbacks to effectively deliver the story, though at times, it does sound a little more in the realm of the propaganda newsreels of the past. Our two actors manage to provide us with the background and the emotions of the time particularly the naivete and spirit of Khan herself. As the script has been honed down to the hour for Edinburgh, missing is a scene, I understand that allows Atkins to interrogate the former Gestapo Officer, Josef Kieffer. There is an imbalance because of it, and I would have liked to have seen it intact.
The venue is far from spacious and given the props required and set needed to tell the tale, all credit is due to the performers that they are able to play their parts with jeopardy but without incident. Costume is a particular positive and the detail of the set and its functionality works very well.
There are minimal lighting cues and sound is as it is needed, giving us a fairly polished production overall. Direction is, given the limitations of the venue, well done. In fact, the direction has clearly been tightly managed as the limitations of the stage could have given rise to a number of really difficult issues onstage.
I really enjoyed the piece and have since gone to look more into the background. It is, without a doubt, fascinating and as a theatre piece has broadened my sense of enquiry, which is a guidance I am more than happy to take.