No Dogs, No Indians review at the Spire, Brighton – ‘uneven look at colonialism’

Komal Amin in No Dogs, No Indians. Photo: thatthingyoupluck

Penned in the Margins’ No Dogs, No Indians – a Brighton Festival world premiere – is an ambitious if sprawling examination of the deep scars of the British Empire, both personal and political.

Commissioned to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence, it takes the true story of revolutionary Pritilata ‘Rani’ Waddedar (a suitably intense Komal Amin), and weaves it into the fictional lives of three generations of Indians.

Rani’s comrades rage against English rule in the 1930s. An unhappy marriage flounders in the 1970s. A grieving son returns to modern-day India, his Anglicised sensibilities jarred by his affluent, coke-snorting friends.

It’s an admirable attempt by author Siddhartha Bose to tackle important subjects, but it doesn’t quite succeed. There are some nice touches, especially around internalised racism and how the struggle for ‘equality’ tends to mean ‘equality for men’ – Rani may be a fearless gun-smuggler, but back at rebel HQ, she still ends up doing the cooking. But too often Russell Bender’s direction lacks pace and cohesion, and scenes are left to meander.

Archana Ramaswamy is charismatic as the chorus, which is smartly and sharply written, but uneven in her other roles. Also on multiple-character duties, Omar Khan and Ashraf Ejjbair struggle slightly with the occasionally clunky dialogue and roles that are drawn with the broadest of strokes.

But in a country used to a sanitised, flag-waving version of its history, where the British Empire is fetishised and its victims erased, the piece should be lauded for its ambition, even if the execution falls short.

Ambitious but uneven look at the legacy of colonialism