Noor (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: November 10, 2022 in Theatre

Photo: Ikin Yum

Writer: Azma Dar

Director: Poonam Brah


The return of war to modern day Europe adds a chilling dimension to Azma Dar’s new play, which gives an account of living in a city that is occupied by enemy forces. Set during World War II, the play tells the true story of the heroism and sacrifice of a young woman who was later to be awarded the George Cross.

Noor Inayat Khan, in her late 20s at the start of the War, is of Indian/American parentage. She was born in Moscow and grew up mostly near Paris. Having joined the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, she is recruited in 1943 to join the Special Operations Executive. In peacetime, she was a writer of children’s books, but, notwithstanding her relative inexperience, she is sent on a highly dangerous mission to work as a radio operator in Paris, sending back vital information about German activities.

Noor’s vulnerability and selfless determination are brought out beautifully in Annice Boparai’s compelling performance. Her story is framed by the post-war interrogation of German officer Kieffer by Noor’s senior officer Vera Atkins, who, we are told, is of Hungarian Jewish descent. The complexities of nationalities and loyalties are emphasised by the writer. As Kieffer, Chris Porter manages to avoid most of the clichés associated with such characters and make him seem almost human, while Caroline Faber shows all sides of the ruthless, compassionate and slightly ambiguous Atkins.

Laurence Saunders and Ellie Turner appear as characters encountered by Noor in Paris, where she has just a few minutes to transmit messages before radio signal are detected and traced back by the Germans. At first glance, the play should be, in part at least, a gripping suspense thriller, but Dar’s decision to frame the narrative as she does reveals the story’s outcome at the beginning, thereby lessening the suspense and robbing scenes of potential thrills.

Director Poonam Brah sets her production on a long traverse stage, but makes little effective use of it. When characters converse from opposite ends, the visual experience for the audience is comparable to that of watching a tennis match, but, more significantly, the staging does nothing to inject tension into the drama.

The writer packs the play with detail, not all of it wholly relevant to the core story, but she achieves the worthy objective of generating wider awareness of an important contribution to the allies’ war effort. However, the story’s potential for forming the basis of an exciting work of theatre is not fully realised.

Performance date: 9 November 2022

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