Nirbhaya: Play about the Delhi rape that shocked the world set for Edinburgh

'This drama will speak about sexual violence'

No play currently in London has made a more powerful impact than Mies Julie. But as the production was being bedecked with five-star reviews for supercharging Strindberg's 19th-century drama with sex, and boldly transporting it to post-apartheid South Africa, the show's creator Yael Farber was focusing on a project that may make that show appear timid by comparison.

Rehearsals haven't begun yet, but this is what is known about the play so far. It will be called Nirbhaya (Hindi for "fearless one"), a pseudonym by which the victim of last December's notorious Delhi bus gang-rape became known in India. It will be performed at least in part by Indian women who will give testimony about sexual violence and intimidation that they have themselves experienced. And most tellingly of all, it will in some way reenact the assault, allegedly conducted by five men and one 17-year-old juvenile, which led to the agonising death of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, waves of street protests across India, and revulsion across the world. If all goes to plan Nirbhaya will open at the Assembly Hall in August during the Edinburgh Fringe.

When we met in London's Riverside Studios, where Mies Julie is playing until Sunday, Farber was clearly energised by the belief that her next play would help dispel the silence that surrounds sexual violence in India and beyond. "The play will speak about sexual violence through the aperture of that one moment," she said. "This will be a call to arms."

This won't be Farber's first testimonial play. Amajuba: Like Doves We Rise has the clearest parallels with Nirbhaya. Like Amajuba, Nirbhaya will be cast with performers who recount their own testimonies.

The actress Poorna Jagannathan, Farber's collaborator on the Nirbhaya project, approached Farber with the idea of a theatrical response to the Delhi rape. Jagannathan had seen Amajuba in New York in 2006 and had that play in mind when she conscripted several women from Mumbai's acting community for the Nirbhaya workshops. As with Amajuba, each actor would bring their own testimony to the piece. Not for a second did it occur to Jagannathan that any of them would not have experienced sexual violence in some way. "Look, if you're a woman living in India you have testimony," she says. "We didn't screen." For Farber, who lives in Montreal, the stories may be Indian, but the silence that surrounds them exists in many cultures.

When Jagannathan was raising funds for the workshop one girl said to her, "Yeah, but this play will never reach the rapists." What difference can a play like Nirbhaya make?

"I believe that if I had seen a play like this when I was on that bus in Delhi, I would have said something to them," says Jagannathan.

It remains to be seen whether Nirbhaya will encounter opposition. Even the relatively benign Vagina Monologues, which has been touring India for a decade, is banned in certain parts of the country. "I expect to encounter surprise", says Jagannathan, who is better known in India as a glamorous TV and film actor and for appearing on the covers of India's up-market fashion and lifestyle magazines. "But there has never been a better time to make this piece of work."

Farber meanwhile, rather like the play's title, has no fear of opposition. "The beauty of freedom of speech is that people will have something to say. But certainly it's a volatile issue. And if we don't encounter opposition we haven't done our job."

And then, with the kind of steel that has characterised much of her work, she adds, "I am interested neither in protecting the audience from, nor sensationalising, the horror."

Nirbhaya will open at the Assembly Hall in August

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'