(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/19.)
When Katherine Boo’s book about life in the Mumbai slum alongside the city’s international airport first appeared, many critics compared it to a novel. But turning a piece of brilliant reportage into a play is not easy. Although in the first 20 minutes I had doubts about the project’s viability in the end I was swept away by the integrity of David Hare’s text and the pulsating vigour of the production by Rufus Norris, the National’s director-designate.
The problems are obvious: there are so many stories to tell, so many characters to get a hold of. But Norris gives us an instant picture of the Annawadi undercity where young scavengers survive by stealing, picking through and sorting the detritus from the airport and the nearby hotels. Hare also focuses on a violent dispute inside the slum. The one-legged Fatima, enraged by the relative prosperity of a neighbouring Muslim family, the Husains, accuses them of responsibility for the burns she has inflicted on herself. What follows is an extraordinary story, mixed with hope and despair, of the resilience of the Husains in the face of disaster.