History associates Sir Cyril (later Viscount) Radcliffe with partition, that of India and Pakistan in 1947. It is ironic, therefore, that his name should have been adopted by a set of Chambers created as the result of a merger. As a member of that set, it was intriguing to see Radcliffe depicted in a new play by Howard Brenton. Whilst not in any sense a courtroom drama, the piece has a clear legal theme. It portrays a protagonist engaged in a quasi-judicial process. Radcliffe sees the making of his commission’s award as a task requiring fairness, not an exercise in realpolitik.
Drawing the Line, Hampstead Theatre, 3 December 2013 to 11 January 2014. Click here to read about the production on the Hampstead Theatre website.
“Radcliffe was a brilliant legal mind. But there are indications that during the time he spent drawing the border he had a personal crisis. My playwright’s brain went into overdrive… what a character, what did he go through, a decent liberal man confident in his sense of ‘fairness’, thrown into that bewildering and violent situation in 1947 India?” Howard Brenton
“At first sight, Cyril Radcliffe appears an unpromising protagonist. When we first meet him in Howard Brenton’s new play, he seems decent but dry: a nice, intelligent, principled man.” Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times (****)
“Premiered in Howard Davies’s lucid, elegant production, the play presents Radcliffe (excellent Tom Beard) as a tragicomic figure – a decent man who is driven to despair by the gradual realisation that, whatever he does, there will be a bloodbath.” Paul Taylor, The Independent (****)
“Ignorant of India, mathematics or map-reading, the principled Radcliffe finds himself the victim of despair, as well as Delhi belly, and enmeshed in a whole series of escalating conflicts.” Michael Billington, The Guardian (****)