David Hare’s new play, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is powerful and compelling viewing – a “must-see” for those wondering how globalisation really affects marginalised people in the developing world.
Based on a book by Katherine Boo, this is a form of journalism rather than fiction. The action is based on real life events in Annawadi, a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai’s shiny new international airport.
The community of migrant workers who built the airport is no longer wanted. Their precarious shanty-town is a source of embarrassment to the authorities who would like to see it bulldozed. Presiding over daily life is an unofficial and unusually, a female, slumlord. She is in cahoots with the authorities to ensure the interests of the powerful prevail. Everything she does is geared towards financing her own daughter’s education in an attempt to join the emerging middle class. It soon becomes clear that in the world of the slum, the ends justify the means – here, it’s every man (and woman) for themselves.
We witness the hopes and aspirations of three main families, who employ a mixture of hard work and ingenuity in an attempt to lift themselves out of poverty. They pick rubbish for recycling, steal scrap metal from the nearby airport, and risk violence from the airport guards. In some cases, they resort to prostitution, extortion, and misappropriating government grants. The story that unravels from behind the advertising hoardings, which separate two very different worlds, is one rarely seen from this perspective.
Compassion and Connection
The audience is drawn into each dilemma the characters face and asked to consider what they might do given similar choices. One of the biggest questions presented is: How can you lead a ‘good’ life in such conditions?
The call to empathy is very strong in the play, but could it really lead to action or will we choose not to even look, not to see? Katherine Boo writes,
“If we don’t have all the time in the world to make things perfect, we can still make incremental, and meaningful, improvements. And seeing what’s wrong – seeing it clearly – seems to me a crucial part of beginning to set it right.”
Live the experience
Our simulations are designed to ask the same probing questions to participants that the play presents: ‘what would you do in their situation?’
Why not get in touch to talk about arranging a simulation for your business, school or community group.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is playing at the National Theatre until 5th May 2015.