Midnight's Children

Review by: 
Alan Bird

Salman Rushdie's novel “Midnight Children” is a modern classic, which is studied in universities and read on the subways of London and New York. It won the Booker award in 1981 and the Booker of Bookers in 1993. The novel tells the story of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by narrating the life story of Saleem and his family.

This stage production is a new dramatisation by Salman Rushdie, Simon Reade and Tim Supple and is produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

At the stroke of midnight on the 14th August 1947 India became an independent nation and at the same time the midnight children were born - children born at the same time as the birth of the nation. One of the midnight children, born into poverty as the son of a street musician, has his destiny changed when a nurse swaps him with a midnight child born to wealthy parents.

The child is Saleem Sinai who believes that he, like all the midnight children, is a child of destiny and therefore processes special powers. The closer to midnight that the children are born, the stronger are their powers, Saleem being born on the stroke of midnight is the most powerful midnight child of all.

Saleem believes that his story and the history of India are inevitably intertwined, and the play begins with him franticly writing down the details of his life. However, to do so he must begin with the story of his grandfather Dr Aadam Aziz and how he met his wife Naseem.

From this moment on we are led through a carousel ride of intriguing eccentric characters, amusing family anecdotes and the occasional family drama, which takes us from India 1915 to India 1978. In the course of which we also witness the helter-skelter of Indian politics: the birth of the nation: the founding of Pakistan: the Indo-Pakistan war that leads to the birth of Bangladesh, to name but a few.

The midnight children appear to be an analogy for the hopes and ideals of a new-born nation. So many expectations and dreams for a better future. A song that is sung by one of the characters’ begins “Anything you want to be, you can be”. Yet, just as the life of the Midnight children is one of mixed fortunes so too was the history of India. The tales that Saleem narrates are often sardonic, such as the girl who wants to be a great movie star and dreams of playing romantic heroines, but ends up singing classic songs in Pakistan completely hidden from head to toe behind a burqa.

The director Tim Supple keeps the story moving at great speed and the eccentric characters and their ironic, sardonic, but always engaging, tales have only short lives as we blithely jaunt from one scene to the next. Yet despite these sudden jumps Saleem’s life story is told and a feel for the hopes and expectations of that ‘young’ nation is portrayed.

The stage setting is a multimedia event with the use of video, newsreels, sound and lighting effects to add to the drama of the narrative. This adds to the feeling of being catapulted through a kaleidoscope of sight and sounds, an ever changing scenery of snapshots, yet each image of the college is beautifully orchestrated into a fascinating whole, filled with rich characters and a great deal of humour.

The entire twenty strong cast give great performances and privide a unique personality to the many different characters they play. However, there is only one star of the show, which is Zubin Varla as Saleem Sinai. He is on stage through most of the three and a half-hour performance and highlights every aspect of his character’s zany personality bringing energy and excitement to the whole show.

Notices from the popular press....

NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Too little magic in Rushdie's realism." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "An evening of memorable moments " CHARLERS SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Exotic feast disappoints." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Only a very partial success." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "A bold, lively effort."

External links to full reviews from newspapers

The Guardian
The Times

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