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  • Henry Longstaff

Noor - Southwark Playhouse

Sacrifice against all odds


Noor’s is a story worth telling. Serving in the Special Operations Executive, she was the first female wireless operator sent undercover into Nazi occupied France to aid the resistance. Though ultimately betrayed - paying the ultimate sacrifice at Dachau, she remains representative of what a diverse Britain can achieve. She never wavered in the morals inherited from her father, striving for non-violent action wherever possible. despite being in the most perilous of circumstances. A story worth telling but sadly this production is not the way to do it.

The biggest issue with this production is that despite watching an hour and forty five minutes of Noor’s story I am at a loss as to exactly what happened whilst she was an operative. There is a fascinating tale of espionage, terror and sacrifice somewhere here but this production manages to numb any prospect of that entirely. Thanks in part to a meandering script that doesn’t know where it is going or what it is trying to say this production feels lost inside itself, resulting in a play that is devoid of energy and several audience member noticeably checking their watches throughout.

Azma Dar’s script lurches between moments of intense plot and intense nothingness with the grace of the elephant that Noor determinably describes in her poem. There is a multitude of unnecessary dialogue - bringing into question the 105 minute runtime (no interval), and even when there is an ounce of characterisation it lacks depth, therefore feeling forced and clunky. The poor actors do their utmost with what they are given but despite an initial twinkle in Annice Boparai’s (Noor) eye, performances quickly splutter and falter.

There is some nice, versatile design work from Helen Coyston but the choice to stage the play in traverse feels odd considering the limited space available in the Southwark Playhouse Little. Deliveries are regularly lost to the opposite side and the restricted performance area gifts the actors little favour. Lighting from Neill Brinkworth is effective with a clever use of LEDs embedded into the stage to show messages being transmitted. The sound design is fine but does deliver the final nail in the coffin when Noor’s late father’s voice is dispatched over the theatre speakers completely out of step with the tone of the production - cringeworthy.

This is a play that needs significant reworking to tell the incredible story of Noor Khan. Despite the sheer length of this one act play, it fails to give us proper context as to who she is and what she achieved - disappointing when swathes of research has clearly been carried out when you take a look at the programme. Worth a miss at this stage but hopefully Noor’s life can be explored in future work that better does her justice.

Photography - Ikin Yum

Running till 26 November - Tickets

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