theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
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
Largely @ Liberty
Art and the philosophy of life
Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy
lynz real life
Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...
The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.
Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general
A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.
Drawing and painting on an ipad
More than just rooms
Art by Lottie Nevin
This WordPress.com site is Pacific War era information
The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk
books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics
Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance
an irreverent blog of old movies
Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever
Virtual Vegan Comics for Children
Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me
How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....
Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts
Westminster and Whitehall news investigations
Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.
August is archive month. Posts from the past
Creative Exploration in Words and Pictures
collage/mixed media artist
Caring for a demented dad
Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.
Painting My World with My Heart
Literature, books , sport and whatever intrigues me
for people who would try anything except whitewater rafting (probably)
My personal opinions about.......stuff (as if you care!)
Thirty Years of Wonder
Celebrating 98 years on Broadway!
Immerse yourself in Georgian and Regency England
It's Not A Life Sentence. It's A Life. Sentence
What were their stories for us?
Dictatorship is good. If the Dictator is me.
because all writers are magpies at heart...
The world of politics
The Casual Way to Discuss Movies
Freelance Film Critic