Starring: Annice Boparai, Caroline Faber, Chris Porter, Laurence Saunders, Ellie Turner, Munir Khairdin
Director: Poonam Brah
The true story of an Indian Princess descended from the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, and the daughter of a Sufi saint who becomes the first British female spy to be sent into occupied France during World War II has some theatrical elements already built into it. And, this limited run London stage production tries to capture Noor Inayat Khan’s story in all its intrigue.
Noor (Boparai) is engaged to be married but when Vera Atkins (Faber) brings her in as one of her sharpest wireless operators to be recruited for the secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her love life and natural anti-war instincts aside, Noor feels compelled to take up the deadly mission. The diligent young girl who enjoys writing children’s stories about elephants and day-dreaming of a world filled with peace displays a resolve that surprises many.
When she asks Atkins if she is likely to come back alive from the anti-Nazi mission she is being deployed for – to be thrown behind enemy lines and wire back crucial information – it is obvious she knows the answer is in the negative. Yet, the sheer grit and determination of this unlikely spy takes her through some of the toughest war-time scenarios.
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Atkins, who clearly harbours a soft spot for this optimistic young war heroine, tries hard to piece together the final days of torture experienced by her most talented wireless operation. The truth that she uncovers sends shivers down her spine and ends with Noor being posthumously conferred the highest war-time bravery honour of the George Cross.
The story of Noor is now somewhat known since her biography ‘Spy Princess’ was first published in 2006 by author Shrabani Basu. This play pegs the story from the perspective of Noor’s boss at the SOE, Romanian-born British intelligence agent Vera Atkins. We see Noor through the lens of a caring Atkins who is forced to make life and death decisions under the immense pressures of war.
The biggest triumph of this production is in its acting talent, with Boparai striking the right tone as the fragile-yet-feisty Noor. She is ably backed up by a talented array of actors, including Faber as Atkins and Ellie Turner as Noor’s friend turned foe Renee. Saunders in his dual roles and Porter as the Nazi officer are equally effective.
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The small crew fits perfectly into this production, which makes some fascinating use of its minimalist sets such as wire taps being transmitted through floor lights.
With a rather limited run at the Southwark Playhouse in London, there might well be scope for this play to be transformed for some bigger productions in future and perhaps even to travel outside the UK.