Kali Theatre’s latest production ‘Noor’ by Azma Dar about the unlikely and enigmatic World War II (WWII) resistance agent Noor Inayat Khan premiered on the London stage this month. This compelling new play captures her intriguing complexity, self-doubt, extraordinary courage, and why her story is so relevant to our times.
Noor was the first female undercover wireless operator to be sent from the UK into occupied France. She faced up to fascism with courage, resilience and imagination, evading capture longer that any of her counterparts, and was posthumously awarded the George Cross yet her story remains little known.
This is not just another World War II story. Noor was far from a typical spy. She was an accomplished musician and a writer of children’s stories. Grounded in a deeply spiritual Sufi Muslim upbringing, she held onto her pacificist beliefs to defeat fascism in her own way.
Director Poonam Brah said: “I am thrilled to be directing Azma’s play, having spent time together learning so much of Noor’s fascinating life and of her values – those of love, resistance, and the belief in humanity working as one to stand up to a regime.
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“It is vital to me to be part of sharing her story – not just as a chapter in history, but in terms of how it speaks to British life right now. It re-frames the traditional narratives about who fought for our freedom in WWII and what they were defending, and represents the contribution both of the women agents of the SOE and people of colour to fighting WWII, connecting us all to our shared history and our sense of belonging in the UK.”
Playwright Azma Dar noted: “I was drawn not only to Noor’s fascinating story, but also her unique, enigmatic character. She was quiet and modest, yet outspoken, strong-willed and fearless. Despite many setbacks due to her beliefs and cultural background, she played a vital role in WWII.
“Through years of research, my play is an attempt to capture the essence of Noor’s spirit, and to create an interpretation that reflects the many layers of her poetic, thrilling and incredible story. I am excited to see Poonam and the cast bring it to the stage and love how the production brings together such a unique combination of influences, from Swing dance and film noir to Sufi music.”
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Director Poonam Brah and writer Azma Dar have been developing the play with Kali Theatre for several years. Initial workshops were hosted by the National Theatre Studio. A reading of an early version received much praise from audiences when presented as part of Kali’s week of ‘War Plays’. The Michael Grandage Company awarded a bursary to support its development.
*Info: Noor, Southwark Playhouse