Rahila Gupta’s ‘Don’t Wake Me- The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong’ is a phenomenally powerful dramatic work, just opened at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone. The play takes the form of a dramatic monologue; a hard-hitting and relentless account of one mother’s true struggle for her disabled son’s rights. This monologue is delivered by Jaye Griffiths, who performs with an intensity and complete commitment to the role, skilfully conveying the intricacies of many different relationships and interactions within a minimal set. A photo of Nihal is on stage throughout the course of the play and from his birth to his death, the audience is held utterly entranced by both Griffiths’ performance and by Rahila Gupta’s script, which unfolds with breathtaking pace, jumping in time and location yet managing to keep the audience up to speed by never losing the subtlety of the character relations. In terms of props, Griffiths only has basic furniture items, a photo of Nihal and an empty wheelchair to work with. However, in conjunction with Gupta’s beautifully poetic imagery, these objects are able to really push the imagination of the audience and their emptiness is a potent reminder of the loss so central to the play.
The work is uplifting in that one cannot help but be impressed and inspired by the physicality and emotional intensity of the role and the true hardship of the struggle played out, yet this is not a work with a happy ending and when the lights come down, the audience is really left shell-shocked. The most important aspect is that the audience is left invigorated by the energy of Nihal’s mother, by her passion and fight. This is because the force with which Jaye Griffiths performs the role is in the heart of the work- in Rahila Gupta’s words for her son.
This is a play that is so important to society today, forcing us to question and challenge our own notions of disability, prejudice and love and I cannot urge you to see it strongly enough. It has only just opened and whilst the audience is still unfairly small, the sheer word-of-mouth potential of this work will see it go from strength to strength.
‘Don’t Wake Me- The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong’ is running 3-22 June at the Cockpit Theatre. Tickets can be booked at thecockpit.org.uk/show/dont_wake_me
It will go on to the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 5-25th August. Tickets can be booked at festivalhighlights.com/theatre/wake