Wipers is a play inspired by the real-life story of Khudadad Khan, set in Belgium during the First World War, October 1914. Khudadad Khan was the first South-Asian soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his contribution to the war. Although we never get to meet this character, his presence and story are held strongly throughout the play.
The stage surroundings were impressive, capturing the essence of an abandoned barn. Four soldiers occupied the space, each revealing their backgrounds and personal journeys. We join British soldier Thomas (Jassa Ahluwalia) and South Asian soldiers Sadiq (Simon Rivers), Ayub (Waleed Akhtar) and AD (Sartaj Garewal) as they seek refuge from the war in the barn. The audience are invited to watch these soldiers, in this high stake situation, reveal their vulnerabilities, stories and thoughts. Collisions of their culture, language and upbringing cause friction but also moments of comedic relief, such as an amusing exchange when AD is preparing dahl (lentil curry), as Thomas looks on fascinated taking notes of the recipe. We’re immersed into this scene with the help of the delicious aroma of dahl filling the theatre, this gave the audience a 3D experience and truly bringing us into the setting.
The actors gave a completely compelling performance, each mesmerizing the audience with their characters’ stories and troubles. The South-Asian actors spoke with an Asian accent, however to signify when they were speaking in their mother tongue, adopted British accents. This was confidently executed, extremely clear and added a fascinating element emphasising the pace of switching between the two languages. This paired with the nervous British soldier Thomas, played by the brilliant Ahluwalia, created a gripping situation for his character, to seem on edge. The dynamic of the group was also interesting to watch and cleverly set-up by the writer. Sadiq disliking Waleed due to him having an educated background, Waleed becoming vocal about the independence of India to Thomas, all these different conflicts yet they are all tied by having respect for one man- Khudadad Khan.
This was a truly powerful and thought-provoking story, that takes us on an intense journey of hope and frustration. This play especially felt emotional because it covered something that perhaps, can be considered as the ‘unknown stories’ of the soldiers from the Empire. As audience members we felt we had personal connection with this story, as all of us are of a South-Asian descent. We felt frustrated and even a touch guilty that we didn’t know more about these soldiers in this section of history, and also how little the Soldiers from the Empire were covered during our History lessons back in School. The script provides a refreshing take on the war, not only are we faced with the conflicts of battle, but also the way these different cultures had to fight together. Wipers is a show we’re extremely pleased to have seen and a production that we would love more people to experience. The show is currently on at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre until 21st May.