Lyric Hammersmith. London W6
Opened 14 February, 2007
The Lyric Hammersmith under David Farr seems to see its mission as
setting a storytelling pulse to grand yet human themes. The supreme
sources in such an area are surely the world's great religious
narratives. In this case the great Hindu epic pretty much has it all,
and what Farr feels missing or inadequate he deftly adds or emphasises.
Its central motive force is that fondest notion, all-conquering love.
When Lord Rama's wife Sita is abducted by the rapacious Ravana, he
spends months searching for her while she in turn refuses to betray
him. But Rama is intensely conscious of living his life according to dharma, a strong moral code. The
story has many folkloric elements: Queen Kaikeyi, who causes Rama's
exile, is simplified here into a wicked-stepmother figure, and Rama and
Sita journey through a familiar archetypal forest. Add to that the
mischievous yet noble figure of the monkey Hanuman who, when sent to
the Himalayas to bring back healing herbs, grows confused and decides
in most un-epic language, "Bugger it, I'll take the whole mountain."
(The involvement of a monkey army also licenses the groan-out-loud pun
The spiritual-v.-material conflict is pointed up by turning Ravana from
a simple denier of the gods into an exemplar of modern secular
acquisitivism: he hankers after Rama's city of Ayodha for its
development potential. Farr comes very close to over-egging the pudding
here. His discreet handling of the spiritual is far better, as when
Hanuman makes a speech to the assembled monkey warriors (i.e. the
audience) telling us that we are each of us the chosen of the gods. Nor
is the morality bleached into black and white: even Ravana and Kaikeyi
are shown to have their own principles.
Farr's direction is very much in a storytelling vein, blending
straight-to-audience narrative with heightened dramatic scenes and
opting visually for suggestion rather than naturalistic representation.
After all, how do you naturalistically portray a magical series of
stepping stones across an ocean? Far better to use a ritualistic
movement sequence (underpinned, as so much of the evening is, by an
atmospheric percussion-based score by Shri). Paul Sharma and Kolade
Agboke combine dignity and passion as Rama and his brother Lakshman,
although Vanessa Ackerman is on the strident, even nagging, side as
Sita. Richard Simons' Hanuman never lets his playful nature trivialise
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights
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