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Santi & Naz at Pleasance Courtyard Edinburgh Festival Fringe

There’s a lot in this story, which spends a lot of time exploring childhood innocence, before eventually dealing with socio-political issues arising from the United Kingdom agreeing to the partitioning of India in 1947, thus establishing Pakistan as a sovereign country. A personal tale, it’s not exactly unusual for the dynamics in a close friendship to change over time, especially if one or both of them moves away. Santi (Rose-Marie Christian) and Naz (Karendip Phull) are as playful as children can be. Gregarious as they were, it seemed for a long while that they were going to be okay – after all, aren’t they just going to make new friends?

Santi & Naz, credit to Rebecca White.
Santi & Naz, credit to Rebecca White.

There’s a belief, as best friends tend to have, that they were going to be together ‘forever’, whatever is really meant by ‘forever’. Some cursory discussion of religious beliefs takes place, but there is more that unites than separates them. Getting married is something they simply laugh out loud at. Talk of the afterlife just isn’t something they even need to think about any time soon.

To portray the energy of children, the performances are very physical: they can, and do, spend extended periods of time outdoors, unsupervised. The only times the grown-ups interrupt their fun is in relation to milestone family events and gatherings. Santi, from a Sikh family, likes a good book and takes an interest in current affairs – Naz, from a Muslim family, doesn’t quite understand, if British rule is ending in India, why she still must learn English. “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” she learns by rote, without knowing what broth even is.

Naz finds herself, by way of family matchmakers, engaged to be married to someone she is not attracted to on account of yellowed teeth and, if I recall correctly, a slug-like face. It isn’t, perhaps because of its childlike (not, I hasten to add, childish) outlook, an overtly political play, but it’s one that’s easy to invest in, thanks to compelling performances in this briskly-paced production. A delight to watch, telling the kind of story that isn’t often seen on stage.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Best friends Santi and Naz live in pre-partition India. One Sikh, one Muslim, they have little understanding of how religion will divide them. As the political situation in their country worsens and the threat of separation looms large on the horizon, they take drastic action.

Santi & Naz remains playful and light-hearted, even as it explores history that is rarely represented on our stages. This complex, lyrical show is a touching and honest story of female friendship. It speaks to anyone that’s ever felt like they have no control over what’s happening to them in the world. It’s for friends and lovers, families and history buffs, and for those who know nothing about the Partition of India, but would like to.

Created by The Thelmas
Writers Guleraana Mir and afshan d’souza-lodhi
Director Madelaine Moore
Associate Producer Sarah Verghese
Co-producers The Pleasance
Designer Sascha Gilmour

Social Media #SantiAndNaz @TheThelmas
Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2023
Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Two), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ

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