Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • MANDRAGORA KING OF INDIA • Tara Arts @ Croydon Clocktower [tour] • 2004

Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast. Belonging to the East India Company of England

An 18th century portrait depicting Fort St. George, the first major English settlement in India and the foundation stone of Chennai [Madras]

Mandragora is King of India, reigning in Madras, the land of the Koh-i-Noor, when a party of ‘chalky-whites’ arrive: Lord Hastings, Lady Catherine who is to be his bride and another nobleman called Thatch. Cultures clash and the ‘chalky-whites’ make off with the diamond. A simple metaphor for European exploitation, we are clearly not intended to take it as a documentary.

Nirjay Mahindru’s play is set in a fantasy land. There was a Hastings, Warren Hastings, the first English Governor-General in 1774 (impeached for corruption in the next decade) but their costumes place these visitors nearly two centuries earlier. The Koh-i-Noor (from the Persian for ‘mountain of light’), the dazzling jewel set in the Queen’s state crown in 1937, has been known since the fourteenth-century and belonged to the seventeenth-century Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb. The British did not get hold of it until 1849.

The play is performed in front of Claudia Mayer’s simple set of a Victorian proscenium, with a tiger’s head where the royal arms might be and whose stylized marbled panels hint at Indian temple sculpture. We are in the world of pantomime, melodrama and toy-theatre. Its characters speak dialogue scattered with doggerel verse, Shakespearean phraseology, the names of Indian dishes, Churchillian rhetoric and contemporary references to asylum seekers, exclusion zones, performance-related-pay and other modernisms. Throw in some religious parallels, a sub-plot with a poet and his daughter rebelling against tradition, a song or two and it is a very mad-cap mixture, well set up by a prologue complete with conjuring tricks which calls on our imagination and reminds us that ’Some lies are true.’

Director Jatinder Verma has kept everything simple and fast-moving. Scenes end, lights fade and characters walk off to reappear as someone else. Actors bring on garments to help others effect quick changes to another persona. Ingenious and colourful costumes and the sheer energy of the performers make for lively engagement but the performance I saw at Croydon Clocktower was often difficult to follow. The fault may largely lie in the great height of this performance space and its challenging acoustic. It needed much clear speaking to make everything comprehensible, especially as a slight change in position seemed to have a major effect on the sound.

When companies are playing only one or two performances at each date it can be difficult to adjust to a venue and what works in an empty house may be quite different with an audience, but I went on the third night: is there no feedback from anyone front of house? Shaun Chawdhary’s Hastings (doubling Indian noble Jasper) I could hear and follow at all times, but I lost much of Avin Shah’s Mandragora (though his London-voiced Spade was clearer). Emma Bown gave us a lively European version of traditional Indian dance, and was often crystal clear but occasionally too shrill or just too quiet. Anushka Dahssi’s fiesty Sunita was frequently difficult to comprehend, although I lost much less of Arif Javid’s Bindio and Tim Bruce’s Thatch. Please, all of you, play safe and go for clarity, clarity at all times. Other venues may not present such a problem, but did I miss something that would have given a little more meaning to the play and make it seem more focussed? Or is it just a romp?

Tara Arts‘ current ‘Borders of Love’ project, of which this show forms part, ‘seeks to explore and dramatise pre-colonial Anglo-Indian relations’ (their phrase not mine) but enjoyable though it may be, Mandragora does not do much exploration and to that extent is disappointing. There are hints of dark issues here: the play opens with Mandragora’s Queen dying in childbirth and a stillborn son, and the King bewailing his “rotten loins” and “poisoned seed”. The Englishwoman calls Mandragora a monster, stinking and ignoble (though we see a rather engaging tyrant), but she has set about learning local language and custom while her thieving betrothed preaches economic reform. But none of these strands are developed. What we get is a colourful romp that laughs at itself and its self-conscious jokes but it is the pace of the production and its stylish mounting that ensure we find it fun.

Howard Loxton © 2004

Originally published on R&V 08-10-04


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Ace News Desk

This site has been designed to provide reports together with news events as they happen when they happen across the world

Dave Plummer Saxophonist

Wedding & Events Saxophonist - Leicestershire and Hampshire


Books, Reviews and bookish thoughts

Creative writing and art by Charlotte Begg

Creative writing and art by Charlotte Begg

Mallory James

Writer - Author - Historian

Act Professional

A How-To Guide for Actors from Someone Who Has No Idea What She's Doing

Iris Theatre

Supporting the next generation of professional theatre practitioners


The site for 'Madcap Mabel' - Mabel Normand


The site for and by adults with ADHD

Scandalous Women

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The Naptime Author

Anne Clare explores the world of writing, one stolen minute at a time.


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Woman the fuck up

Hear me roar. Writer, mother, actress, maker of beautiful things, witch. Not taking any more shit and neither should you.


Dedicated to Women Pilots of the Solent


illustration, colour, fashion + lifestyle blog UK


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Improbability Archivist

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who,

WCH On This Day

Working Class History anniversaries every day


Yoga classes and aromatherapy products in Andalusia, Spain.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art

History And Other Thoughts

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl

The everyday adventures of the staff & students of Old College


Subject to change.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Women of History

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Jon Danzig's World

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The pallet Junkie

Hand crafted furniture

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....


Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork

Cooking on a Bootstrap

The #1 budget recipe website

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

Life with an Illness

Sharing my chronic illness journey, while helping others. I spread awareness, love, and positivity along the way!♡

%d bloggers like this: