Review: ‘Sita’

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Squashed Mango Theatre Company’s devised play Sita, can be summed up succinctly in two words: simply mesmerising. Brave and bold, this original production, inspired by the Indian myth ‘Ramayana,’ puts the audience in a state of awe throughout, as the company expertly blends Indian tradition with Western theatrical conventions to craft a fresh and vivid performance that raises many questions surrounding family, honour and the strength of women. Each cast and crew member must be praised immeasurably since this play successfully critiques the classical story whilst also proudly celebrating Indian culture.

Every cast member puts their entire soul into their performances

Every cast member puts their entire soul into their performances, challenging themselves to use a variety of skills including physical theatre, stage combat, dance and naturalist dialogue. These skills are employed aptly and help tell the story in intelligent and creative ways. The eponymous character, Sita (Amelia Melvin), is portrayed strongly. Melvin certainly moulds her character into a ‘daughter of fire and passion’ whenever she delivers her compelling monologues. Subverting the princess archetype successfully, she cries out to the audience directly from the edge of the apron, as her coarse tone of voice and eyes, burning with anguish indicate Sita’s fiercely admirable character. Another stand-out moment is when the child (Dorottya Farkas), who seems to manipulate the whole story through the innovative use of a finger-tip light, breaks out into a battle-dance sequence, synthesising a variety of styles and displaying immense strength, flexibility and elegance. Coupled with a shadowing lighting state, it is undoubtedly a jaw-dropping spectacle.

Likewise, the actors’ use of physical theatre is sublime. Numerous lifts are executed in a controlled and wondrous manner and repeated motifs of movement always feel relevant and appropriate, showcasing the impressive devising ability of the troupe. Through sequences of physical theatre, the actors are able to clearly communicate emotion and action with energy and precision. The company proves that theatre does not have to rely upon dialogue for effective storytelling. Stage combat is also weaved through the play and is presented in a brave and original manner. The company devises a way for characters such as Sita’s trainer (Cameron Ashplant) and Ravana (Ruth Louis) to fight Sita without the actors having to touch one another. They engage in figurative, non-combat battles that brim with tension and skill, yet believably convey the character’s reactions and feelings throughout.

The actors’ use of physical theatre is sublime

The director (Layla Chowdhury) must be commended for her creative use of technical elements which make the play ever more mesmerising. Creative stylistic choices include a vast palette of bright washes and the symbolic use of coloured powder, elements which contrast the entirely white set and costuming, helping make the play exciting and fun. Furthermore, the play is in a sense Chekhovian, since every prop onstage is important. Everyday items are given different identities, for example, a toilet brush becomes a military weapon, and are cleverly used to tell the story of ‘Ramayana’ in unconventional ways. This inventive use of prop successfully conveys the creativity of a child’s imagination, making the play universal and suitable for all ages, as is the company’s aim.

Considering this production was scriptless in October, the final product demonstrates how hard the team have worked to produce this sublime piece of theatre. Evidently collaborative, the play celebrates the pivotal role of every cast member both in the creation and the execution of the piece. One minor criticism would be that the transitions between the child’s world and the mythic world are sometimes hard to notice, causing confusion, and the multi-rolling and minimal costuming can make it difficult to recognise characters, especially if you are unfamiliar with the ‘Ramayana’ myth. Nevertheless, the production makes up for this with its artistic ingenuity, encouraging the audience to consider the importance of every word, object and movement onstage, making the play a magical experience.

Sita is a beautiful production

Sita is a beautiful production, simple yet layered in meaning and symbolism. Despite it running for just under an hour, the play bursts with too many moments of creative genius to include in a short review. From the beginning until the end, Squashed Mango Theatre Company’s Sita keeps the audience enthralled, like the child who imagines the story and allows DST to end Michaelmas term on a mesmerising high. This production is definitely worthy of full audiences every night of its run.

Image by Mateusz Jaworski

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