Asian Princess's Bravery under Nazi Torture
“Women are better staying packing parachutes and cooking stew.”
Lest We Forget
During the second world war just three George Crosses were awarded to women, two of whom were given the honour posthumously. All three worked for the SOE, the Special Operations Executive. The most well know recipient being Violette Szabo, who was played by Virginia McKenna in the 1958 film “Carve Her Name with Pride”.
This play from Kali Theatre is about the much lesser-known heroine Noor Inayat Khan (Annice Boparai). Born in Moscow to an Indian Muslim father and an American mother, her father was descended from Sultan Tipu of Tipu’s Tiger fame and she was a Princess. Noor had lived in Paris and was fluent in French before coming to live in England in 1940 when the Germans invaded France. She had trained in Paris in medicine and music. In November 1940 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and in February 1943 her language skills brought her to the attention of the SOE where she trained under Vera Atkins (Caroline Faber) codename Intrepid.
Noor was called Nora Baker but when she was sent to France as a wireless operator her codename was Madeleine. The average “life” expectancy of a wireless operator was six weeks before being caught. We see Noor being trained by Vera Atkins and and Colonel Buckmaster.
Southwark Playhouse have created a convincing set the length of the room with the audience either side. The majority of the stage is open allowing the cast to bring on chairs as are needed for different scenes, which works well. The cast is just five with one of them, Laurence Saunders playing Colonel Buckmaster and in France, a Resistance worker, the Professor.
The play follows this courageous woman through her training to France where she reconciles her pacifism to fighting against the Germans. Parallel scenes feature a captured German Keiffer (Chris Porter) trading with Vera Atkins. Later scenes show Keiffer having captured Noor in France and taking her to Germany. The citation makes it clear that Noor Khan steadfastly refused to disclose who she worked with in Paris.
The performances are thoroughly convincing. Annice Boparai is on stage almost all of the time and is captivating as Noor who has also left us her stories for children. Caroline Faber is thoroughly professional but I disliked Colonel Buckmaster’s bullying training exercises. Keiffer is the one we have to hate with his deception and games playing. Ellie Turner plays a French woman Renée who Noor stays with. The ending is high tragedy for this brave woman.
I started watching the play with a sense of uneasiness about how the story could extend to 1 hour 45 minutes, but it soon absorbed me into the narrative and it ended all too quickly. At this time of remembrance, it is often too easy to forget the different nations and women involved in the brutal conflict. This play does justice to just one heroine who time might have forgotten; I can recommend it.
Written by Azmar Dar
Directed by Poonam Brah
Director: Poonam Brah
Designer: Helen Coyston
Movement: : Nancy Kettle
Lighting Designer: Neill Brinkworth
Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen
Running Time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Booking to 26th November 2021
London SE1 6BD
Rail/Tube: Elephant and Castle
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Southwark Playhouse
on 9th Novenber 2022