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Child of the Divide review at Polka Theatre, London – ‘imaginative and educational’

The cast of Child of the Divide. Photo: Katherine Leedale The cast of Child of the Divide. Photo: Katherine Leedale
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In 1947, the partition of India and the newly formed Pakistan resulted in the migration of more that 16 million people. The divide was as much spiritual as it was geographical, with Muslims and Hindus leaving homes their grandparents had built for an uncertain future across this unfamiliar border.

Sudha Bhuchar’s play Child of the Divide looks at this fraught period in history through the eyes of Pali, a young boy lost as his family flee to Delhi. Alone and afraid, he is adopted by a childless Muslim couple who change his name and religion but he soon discovers that an identity crisis is something shared with other children in the village.

Originally produced to mark the 60th anniversary of the partition, this new production features an ensemble cast of adults playing multiple roles including an expressive Karan Gill as Pali.

Jim Popes’ direction and staging is both fluid and fluent, capturing the passing of time without losing any of the drama. In turn, Sue Mayes’ cartographic set design is a constant reminder of the physical divide that altered the course of so many lives.

Bhucher’s adaptation of Bhisham Sahni’s short story may have been created to explain the Partition of India to young people but it doesn’t shy away from the horrors that surround the period.

Neither does it dwell on them, instead exploring themes of spiritual identity, family and friendship from a child’s perspective. Pali has his name changed to Altaaf and while he plays on the same streets as he used to, his friend’s games and squabbles mirror the social change the adults are facing around them.

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Imaginative and educational slice of history seen through the eyes of a child