It was one of the great defining moments of history – and its reverberations are still being felt today.
At midnight on August 14, 1947 British India, as it was then known, was divided along religious lines, creating the two independent states of India and Pakistan.
Between 10 and 12 million people were displaced as a result, triggering a huge refugee crisis as well as large-scale violence in the region resulting in great loss of life.
This is the subject of a new play by playwright, broadcaster and Yorkshire Post theatre correspondent Nick Ahad to mark the 70th anniversary of the division, exploring its legacy. Partition is the first collaboration between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and BBC Radio Leeds and will be presented both as a radio broadcast and a live stage performance.
An experienced and accomplished playwright and screenwriter, with ten stage plays under his belt, Ahad was commissioned to write Partition after the success of a previous project with BBC Radio Leeds where he is a presenter.
Children of the Somme was a project commemorating the 100th anniversary last year of the Battle of the Somme – the BBC worked with primary schoolchildren in Bradford enabling them to find out more about soliders from India and West Yorkshire who fought in the First World War. Ahad was commissioned to write a half hour play as a companion piece. Coming Home Together, a time-travelling adventure for 10-11 year olds, was broadcast on Boxing Day and performed at Bradford Playhouse.
The live performance was so well received that the BBC applied for funding to tour, taking it in to schools in West Yorkshire in February.
With the 70th anniversary of Partition approaching this year, managing editor of BBC Radio Leeds Sanjiv Buttoo commissioned Ahad to write a radio play on that theme, with the idea of also performing it live. “We were looking at putting it on stage in Bradford and in Leeds and when we thought about where we would love to put it on in Leeds we thought of the West Yorkshire Playhouse.” They then approached the Playhouse’s artistic director James Brining. “In initial conversations James and Sanjiv both got really excited about the prospect of collaborating on something,” says Ahad. “And it is a huge privilege for me to be the writer on the first project that has brought them together.”
Radio is a powerful medium for drama and storytelling. Since there is no visual narrative, the scope is boundless – sound effects and the listener’s imagination can create a whole world. Transferring that on to the stage, then, could be quite a challenge. But not in this case – the staging is innovative and neat.
“It is essentially going to be a radio play on stage,” says Ahad. “There will be live foley and sound effects which is really exciting.” Four local actors will be taking on a variety of different roles to tell the story. “They are all brilliant people I have seen and worked with before,” says Ahad. “When we auditioned them they had to have the skills to do the voice work for radio and have a stage presence.” Ahad will be in the rehearsal room with the actors and director Stefan Escreet throughout the process and at the recording. “Apart from anything else I’m really excited to be able to learn from all these brilliant and talented people.”
Partition, West Yorkshire Playhouse, September 8 and 9. wyp.org.uk It will be broadcast at midnight on August 14 on BBC Radio Leeds and several other regional radio stations.