workshOPERA in association with Neil McPherson for Finborough Theatre
Anusree Roy’s play Trident Moon is instantly tense and exciting. Two women sit in the back of a huge truck with their hands tied. Across from them lies a woman groaning from a bullet wound. Beside her is Alia (Sakuntala Ramanee) who switches from caring for the injuries to threatening the other two women. Between them are two young girls.
It is 1947, the year of the bloody partition of India into the independent nation states of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The truck is travelling to what some of its occupants hope is the relative safety of Hindu India. Outside the truck are the sounds of riots and protest.
The two captives are Muslim, belonging to the family that employed Hindu servants including Alia’s husband and two sons. She holds them responsible for their death and says she intends to punish them by delivering them to rape and worse in India.
During the journey, a number of other desperate women who are strangers take refuge in the truck adding to the complicated tensions.
However, Anusree Roy shows the way seemingly intractable differences of religion can be shifted aside as each character demonstrates compassion, understanding and support for others in the truck.
Unfortunately, what begins as a humane story told through an exciting situation is soon overwhelmed by severe difficulties of plot, character, and dialogue.
What happened in 1947 was appalling, but Anusree Roy leaves us none the wiser about its cause. Instead, she piles into one truck reference to every sensational element of the tragedy she can find, including honour burnings, rape, beheadings, child brides and massacres. She seems determined to marshal her characters into the straitjacket of a tick box of the tragedy.
For over a hundred minutes, there is a continuous level of threat from guns being waved to sexual violence that keep the characters in such a high level of agitation it is a wonder they don’t die of exhaustion.
This lack of variation in the dramatic pattern makes it difficult for them to breathe, to come alive or to give the audience time to care about their fate. The dialogue doesn’t help. It is generally unimaginative, very basic and occasionally unlikely. Would Alia really ask a twelve-year-old girl who has just arrived whether she has been raped yet?
Yes, there are lines which are amusing and give us some slight insight into character but there is hardly anything that anyone will take away or remember.
The plot is driven almost blindly through one improbable incident after another. A pregnant woman pauses in her labour pains to take a blunt knife to remove a bullet from a stomach wound while the truck bounces along bumpy roads. One of the women accidently reveals she is lying about her religion when she bursts into a song used by a different religious faith.
A Sikh member of the army carries out the most incompetent, surreal search of the truck for gold that you will ever see. I was also a bit sceptical about where the last driver of the truck was claimed to be taking the women.
We are daily bombarded with shocking images and reports about violence in the Middle East supposedly committed in the name of religious differences. A play that simply reminds us that atrocities in the name of religion also took place a long time ago somewhere far away does not in itself help our understanding of why they happen or even perhaps what connection they might have to Britain, which ruled over India and stole its wealth for three hundred years before it left in 1947.
Those things may not be essential to a good play, but we do need a performance that gives us more than the horror and more horror.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna