By: CLAIR / OBSCUR
Writer: Deborah Clair
Director: Dominique Gerrard
Reviewer: Lela Tredwell
S.O.E. is a shattering tale of espionage, bravery, endurance, brutality and hope.
This extremely moving piece of theatre puts two incredible women at its heart. The touching story, beautifully told, centres on the bond between Vera Atkins and Noor Inayat Khan, both working in special operations during World War Two. There is a mesmerising fluidity to the storytelling.
The set is minimal but extremely well used. Natasha Jayahendry is captivating as Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian princess who was recruited as an operative into ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Jayahendry’s portrayal of Khan captures her humanity but also her resolve. There is an innocent romantic at her core and yet Khan is also courageous and brave. The life expectancy for operatives in occupied Europe was just six weeks.
Vera Atkins, who trained hundreds of spies, is expertly played by Deborah Clair. We see the care and responsibility that Atkins felt for her charges in Clair’s performance. We hear Atkins’ desperate calls to coax Khan safely home. After the war is over, Vera Atkins is haunted by Khan’s disappearance. She conducts her own mission to discover what happened to her agents, including the infamous agent ‘Madeleine’. Atkins follows the trail to the Gestapo Officer who hunted Khan down.
Khan speaks to Atkins from beyond the grave but with all the vibrancy of life. One of the many stand out moments in the piece is when the two women dance a jitterbug together after Khan manages to deceive a young German officer. Another, is the striking creative choice to use a rope to signify both the aerial for the wireless and also the net closing in on Khan. As she wraps it around the set, it also brings to mind the childhood game of cat’s cradle.
Atkins keeps reminding Khan to be careful but Khan is determined to see the mission through, even as the danger closes in on her. As we reach the inevitable end, we are confronted by the brutality of humanity, along with its extraordinary ability to persevere.
CLAIR / OBSCUR aims to raise awareness of remarkable women through theatre. This incredible story of human endurance, bravery and determination, does their mission justice.
With outstanding performances and beautiful writing, this is theatre that celebrates how placing women centre stage is highly engaging, fascinating and vital.
Reviewed on 27th May