AS part of the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, Curve Theatre’s new adaptation of Amana Fontanella-Khan’s novel Pink Sari Revolution stopped at The Courtyard Theatre where LEO OWEN caught the show.

Isla Shaw’s metaphorical design is instantly arresting with an exceedingly realistic tree erupting from a stage block, symbolising the lead’s explosive character. Fontanella-Khan’s novel tells the story of the revolutionary Sampat Pal, who despite being illiterate and married at 12, has galvanised over 400,000 disillusioned women across 11 districts of Uttar Pradesh to form an army fighting for social change, The Gulabi Gang.

A pastiche of journalist Fontanella-Khan’s source novel and Purva Naresh’s own trip to India to meet Sampat, the play combines ideas from multiple sources, including interviews and imagined conversations for characters who never had their voice heard. Naresh’s stage adaptation chooses to skip over a young Sampat, instead sticking to the present with clues to past abuse shared through memories. The play focuses on one injustice The Gulabi Gang champions, seeking the freedom of Sheelu Nishad (Ulrika Krishnamurti) who has been raped and unlawfully imprisoned for theft.

Director Suba Das directs a cast of eight Indian and British-Asian artists who often play multiple roles. As Sampat, Syreeta Kumar gives us a strong first impression of the woman who is unafraid to show her thighs, say offensive things to men or fight with a stick, despite living in a conservative patriarchal country. Sampat’s fight began as a child, campaigning for the right to an education and continued into adulthood with the forming of her distinctive pink sari-wearing welfare gang. She defiantly warns Sheelu’s self-centred father: “I won’t budge until I find you [there’s only so many places for an alcoholic to hide].”

Through Sampat’s work and both Fontanella-Khan and Purva Naresh’s writing, we, as an audience are exposed to some unnerving shocking realities for women in India. Corruption is rife, from the tainting of childhood innocence by upholding the traditional beating of the dolls festival, Gudiya Peetna (thankfully banned in some districts), to political/police cover-ups, collusions, domestic abuse, rape, corrupt policemen and paedophilia. Despite all this, some of the views other female characters have remain the most distressing; one woman venomously says to another: “[It’s] women like you who force husbands to take what’s rightfully theirs.”

The play’s subject-matter is as "challenging" and "difficult" as its lead character but Naresh’s script injects moments of light relief through Sampat’s wicked sense of humour. It is lyrical at times, explaining Sampat’s choice of pink saris through the sky’s colour before a storm breaks. Das’ direction matches this with repeatedly stark but strangely beautiful silhouettes of a girl hanging by her hair from the central tree.

Almost instantly captivating, Pink Sari Revolution is about questioning moral choices, facing fears, utilising pain and recognising the power of speaking out. Through Sheelu’s predicament, we see both sides to the story, recognising the impact on both the accuser’s family and the victim. Sampat’s story continues as her gang continue to battle life’s injustices and so the play’s open-ending is entirely fitting, calling us too to action: "Time to pick up our sticks". Uncomfortable but powerless and necessary viewing.

Pink Sari Revolution was at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, November 7-11 as part of its tour:’s