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Wipers review at Leicester Curve – ‘delicate First World War drama’

Sartaj Garewal and Jassa Ahluwalia in Wipers at Leicester Curve. Photo: Pamela Raith

Inspired by the story of Khudadad Khan, the first non-British person to win the Victoria Cross, Ishy Din’s new play Wipers is both familiar and unfamiliar. Set during the First World War, it tells the story of a group of soldiers holed up in a barn outside Ypres, their regiment in tatters. Three of the men are south Asian, the fourth a very young British officer. Din is good at sketching in subtleties of hierarchy and showing how the men’s backgrounds and levels of education unite and separate them as much as their ability to speak each other’s language. Bonds gradually develop between them as they wait it out, while, outside, a lone, doomed soldier continues to fire into the night.

It’s almost too delicately done though. Suba Das’ production takes an age to get going – it requires hand-cranking – and though the set-up is reminiscent of RC Sherriff’s Journey’s End, it contains little of that play’s sense of dread and tension. What it has are moments of warmth and humour, like Sartaj Garewal’s taciturn AD preparing dal using his bayonet.

There are nicely-pitched performances too, particularly from Waleed Akhtar as the educated, English-speaking Ayub, and Jassa Ahluwalia – building on the considerable promise he showed in Piranha Heights at the Old Red Lion and Isley Lynn’s super-smart sex comedy Skin a Cat – as Thomas, the young officer. The scene where they confide in each other their hatred of cricket is particularly sweet.

Though dramatically fairly flat Din’s play has a burning, beating heart – and it shines a light on one of the lesser-known stories of the First World War.

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