February 17 2016
Famed for his previous production of the ancient Indian epic poem, Britain’s Peter Brook returns to London with something less grand and more precise but does it have the same force…?
“THE MAHABHARATA” is almost as old as time itself and its impact on the subcontinent is immense, though it may not be much apparent these days, even in the land of its compilation.
Theatre veteran and icon Peter Brook’s stage version, a return of sorts to his epic nine hour 1984 original production bearing that name, has a newer, smaller incarnation now in “Battlefield”.
It plays at the Young Vic in London until Saturday (February 27) – so hurry.
The original “Mahabharata” is not a single story, it is an amassing of hundreds, even thousands of verses and stories (from a more oral tradition) and is as central to the civilisation of ‘India’ (more than the country by this name), as “The Odyssey” or “The Iliad” both by Homer, is to Western culture, literature, and philosophy.
This production has force and power but it isn’t easy or simple, and those searching for meaning in a strictly religious (Hindu) context will be disappointed probably.
Whether this works for you, is really down to how much the words resonate or pass through you just as sound and highfalutin set pieces – the language is simple but perhaps not the ideas expressed.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a deep spirituality at play, if you want it to be so.
Carole Karemera, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba and Sean O’ Callaghan are all excellent, especially Nzaramba with his comic turns.
The largely black cast* in their shawls give it a strangely biblical feel too (appropriately so, perhaps as a western production and interpretation).
On a plane of all his own and what gives this play another dimension is Toshi Tsuchitori’s hand-played traditional Indian drum.
It is a tour de force and strikes the mood of the characters with precision and dexterity. The final play out is brilliant and the sort of thing you might want to hear as you depart from this world…
Brook’s adaptation with his long-time collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne from a play by Jean-Claude Carrière, picks up “The Mahabharata” at the point where the great battle between Pandavas and the Kauravas, who are cousins, has ended.
The Pandavas are triumphant and Yudishtira is to ascend to the throne but at what price…
The simple set and lighting allows a focus on the words being spoken and this does have power – because there is very little else to deflect your attentions.
“The Mahabharata” is above all a parable, a guide and an ode to what it means to be human and to crave love, power and riches.
In many ways, it is a warning to want too much, and to avoid being beholden to both materialistic and ‘spiritual’ pursuits.
Whether you get all this from this 70-minute production is debateable at least on a personal level.
For those with some knowledge of “The Mahabharata” and its spiritual and religious connotations (subtly different), this might all seem a bit obvious and clichéd.
Yet “Battlefield” is a trenchant reminder that underneath (garments and titles, and ethnicities, and nationhood, to name just a few), we are all the same.
And that in the fulfilment of our individual desires, we often seek to differentiate, divide, and destroy what actually connects us.
ACV rating: ** ½ (out of five)
*From the first show at Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris in September 2015
*Top picture: Sean O’ Callaghan; Jared McNeill; Ery Nzaramba; Carole Karemera; and on drum Toshi Tsuchitori; pic©Simon Annand
‘Battlefield’ – Based on ‘The Mahabharata’ and the play by Jean-Claude Carrière at The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ.
Tel: 020 7922 2922
‘Battlefield’ continues its world tour and heads to Mumbai from March 5-12, and then onto Hong Kong, Rome, Modena, Florence and Madrid (June 12 2016).