British Indian spy Noor Inayat Khan’s story hits London stage
- United Kingdom
The story of Noor Inayat Khan, the British World War II spy whose Indian heritage traces back to the 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan, has been adapted for a new theatre production for the London stage.
'Noor', playing at the Southwark Playhouse this month, tells the incredible story of a young Sufi pacifist-turned-war-heroine as she became the first female undercover wireless operator to be sent from Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) into Nazi-occupied France. Her story first came to light with the biography, 'Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan' by UK-based author Shrabani Basu, which revealed how Noor faced up to fascism with courage and was posthumously awarded the George Cross for bravery.
"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," said Poonam Brah, the Indian-origin director of the new Kali Theatre stage production which opened last week.
"It re-frames the traditional narratives about who fought for our freedom in World War II 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," she said.
As the daughter of Indian Sufi saint Hazrat Inayat Khan, a descendent of Tipu Sultan, Noor's natural instinct was against war and was an accomplished musician and a writer of children's stories. But she felt compelled to join the anti-Nazi mission when offered the job as an undercover agent, played on stage by British Indian actor Annice Boparai. The play, written by Azma Dar, focusses on capturing the intriguing complexity, self-doubt and extraordinary courage up until Noor's torture and death in a concentration camp in Dachau in 1944 with the word "liberty" on her lips.
"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," said Dar.
"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," she said.
Brah and Dar have been developing the play with Kali Theatre for several years, with initial workshops hosted by the National Theatre Studio in London. 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 into the production now playing to impressive reviews.
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