Nirbhaya (4 stars)

This article is from 2013


Photo: William Burdett-Coutts

Challenging and inspiring drama about gender-based violence in India

At the start of Yael Farber’s unflinching account of last year’s horrific rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus, five women come on stage each with one hand held aloft. Alongside one male actor they re-enact the vicious attack of last December and also tell their own stories of sexual abuse. Those raised hands – repeated again at the end of the performance – signify their desire to speak out, to be included as one of a silent number of women who’ve suffered gender-based violence.

To tell the story of Nirbhaya (translated as ‘fearless one’, the name given to the victim before her identity was confirmed) the cast simplistically, yet effectively evoke the atmosphere of Delhi, through jostling bodies and the buzz of electricity wires. In particular the inside of the city’s buses is recreated as a hostile place of groping hands and invading body parts.

But Nirbhaya’s story isn’t the only one here and seeing these women recall their own experiences, of child abuse, gang rape and attempted murder, is just as harrowing. Farber is true to the material, eschewing sentimentality and making no concessions for the audience’s comfort.

By sharing these stories, Farber reflects something of the real-life reaction to Nirbhaya’s murder, which triggered protests across India as women stood up and took to the streets, refusing to stay silent about the abuse they had been through. More than this though, Nirbhaya challenges a bigger, more universal issue concerning sexual violence: that of the shame and secrecy that surrounds it and so often allows it to go unchallenged. Yael Farber’s intelligent, defiant and uncompromising production says simply, ‘this is happening and it can’t be ignored’.

Assembly Hall, 623 3030, until 26 Aug (not 12, 19), 4pm, £14–£16 (£13–£15).


  • 4 stars

Assembly, Riverside Studios and Poorna Jagannathan. On the night of 16th December 2012, a 23-year-old woman and her male friend boarded a bus at Munirka for Dwarka. What followed changed lives forever. Internationally acclaimed playwright and director Yael Farber creates a searing new work that cracks open the cone of…