REVIEW – Nirbhaya (Contact Theatre, Manchester)

Date: 14 March 2015
©Sinbad Phgura
©Sinbad Phgura

On the night of December 16th 2012, a young woman, Jyoti Singh, and her male friend boarded a bus in Delhi. This 23 year old woman was gang raped by six men, beaten and left for dead – her male friend was unable to defend her as he had been beaten unconscious. This attack shocked the whole world. What happened on this night not only changed the lives of the two young people involved but it became a catalyst for action and protests all over the world. People, men and women began to stand up and stand together; they began to break the silence and talk about their experiences.

Jyoti Singh was given the name ‘Nirbhaya’ by the Indian press before her real identity was released. Nirbhaya means ‘Fearless One’ in Hindi.

It feels wrong to be a theatre critic and watch this show with a view to reviewing it and to give it a star rating. So I put my notebook away. This type of production works beyond and outside of the normal constraints of theatre – asking us to question the role of theatre in spreading an important message and how art can bring about change and give people, who have been previously silenced, a voice.


The cast dressed in black make their way from out of the audience to a barely lit stage, one arm raised, to each tell their stories. Shrouded in white, Singh hands each of the women a prop with which to tell their story – her brutal experience and its coverage around the world has helped other women to come forward and break their silence. They are stories that are unimaginable and stories that really should not be true.

“I want to pull my tongue out from my mouth, like a tree, I want to destroy its roots.”

By taking Singh’s story as a starting point, writer and director Yael Farber, explores the problem of sexual violence against women. Farber makes it perfectly clear that this is not just a problem in India but all over the world, as Pamela Sinha, tells the story of the horrific attack that happened to her while she was living in Canada.

Sneha Jawale recounts the shocking abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband – a dowry bride, she endured horrific experiences of domestic abuse which included being doused in kerosene and set alight. Her tears, real tears, falling down her scarred face – the emotion is raw, it is there for us to see and to hear – she is prepared to speak out and break her silence. Still choked with her tears she makes her way back to the ensemble.

“My body is not mine. My spirit is still intact.”

This catalogue of stories need to be told. They demand words. This is a brave, real and haunting piece of work which stops you in your tracks, leaving you speechless.

-Kristy Stott

Nirbhaya is showing at the Contact on 15 March 2015 at 8pm as part of Sick! Festival