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Entertainment
Theatre -> The Ramayana
Indian epic The Ramayana sets the National Theatre stage alight.Indian epic 'The Ramayana'
sets the NT stage alight.

(April 2001)

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, Adapted by Peter Oswald, Music by Kuljit Bhambra, Choreography by Piali Ray, Stage Design by Ultz, Lighting by Jo Joelson, Paul Kieve (Magic Consultant), Jeanette Wilson (Voice Coach)


Starring Ramon Tikaram (Rama), Ayesha Dharker (Sita), Miltos Yerolemou (Hanuman), Andrew French (Ravana), Guy Rhys (Lakshman), Jimmy Akingbola (Mahaparashwa), Fraser Ayers( Indrajit), Charlotte Bicknell (Surpanakha), Emilio Doorgasingh (Vibishana), Vincent Ebrahim (Surgriva), George Eggay (Jambavan), Saul Jaffe (Maricha), Danny Scheinmann (Nila), Christopher Simpson (Bharatha), Thusani Weerasekera (Tara), Inika Leigh-Wright (Mandodari), Tom Wu (Jayatu). Stage Servants - Adam Dean, David Dickson, Jonathan Gabb, Abhin Galeya, Neil Paul, Max Wilson.




An ancient plot, 'The Ramayana' is the oft-repeated tale of Rama, Sita and the monkey-god Hanuman who defeat the evil Ravana.

On the surface the tale is one of good over evil, but as with any Indian epic, there are a good few distracting sub plots along the way. Peter Oswald's adaptation of 'The Ramayana' really starts at the time when Rama and his wife Sita, together with brother 'Lakshman', have moved to the Dandaka forest to pass a period of 14 years exile from their homeland . There they encounter many evil demons (rakshasas), one of whom falls in love with Rama. Rebuffed, the evil demoness (Surpanakha) calls upon her vile, multi-headed demon brother Ravana. An elaborate ploy to distract Rama and Lakshman is planned, giving Ravana the chance to kidnap Sita and carry her off in his golden chariot to his lair in Lanka.

On their mission to rescue Sita, Rama and Lakshman encounter a band of 'monkey' people with whom they form a mutually beneficial pact. Among the monkeys is one called Hanuman who in a daring leap jumps across the ninety-mile strait to Lanka. For his courage Hanuman is henceforth known and revered as the monkey-god.

However, captured by Ravana, Hanuman has a burning rag tied to his tail. Desperate to escape he sets fire to the whole of Lanka in the process! Meanwhile Rama and the rest of the monkey troupe have built a sandbank across the same sea strait. A battle ensues culminating in the death of Ravanna and the salvation of Sita. Rama, Lakshman and Sita then return to their homeland of Ayodhya to live in joy and prosperity.

It is worth repeating the tale briefly, if only to illustrate what a complex task Peter Oswald and Indhu Rubasingham have undertaken.

Firstly the story of The Ramayana is an epic so the setting and battles have to be of equally sizeable proportions. The mythological tale is really of Hindu 'gods' and 'goddesses' - Prince Rama is the human form of the god Vishnu - so a certain degree of grandeur is also needed. All of which are hard to achieve on a tight National Theatre budget. And finally, the tale is long, extremely long. Not even two intermissions, superb choreography and stimulating music can hold the public's attention for the full two hours and thirty minutes.

However, the casting of Ayesha Dharker, who stars in Star Wars Episode II and 'Mystic Masseur' is fortuitous. She attains the right balance between strength and femininity. Hanuman, played by Miltos Yerolemou is equally good. Sadly, Ramon Tikaram, best known to us as Ferdy from 'This Life', is wooden in his portrayal of Rama. Although he has the looks and appearing daubed in blue from head to foot might be considered a mitigating factor, his version of Rama is wooden. I have always felt that Rama is meant to be charismatic. A warrior he is stern and unyielding, but as a leader of men and monkeys a certain degree of charm is necessary!

At times it looks like the whole play was put together on a budget of less than one hundred pounds - with cardboard taped to the stage, a single large white sheet acting as a stage curtain, unwavering white lights and plastics crates as building block for the sandbanks! Perhaps even hundred pounds is a generous estimate!

The saving grace of this production is the superb choreography and dance sequences. Ravana's multi-headed demon is hypnotic mass of twelve real heads. Kuljit Bhamra's music is lively and energetic and the sheer dynamism of the entire cast make the cardboard and plastic props seem like appropriate quirks of a modern adaptation.

Indhu Rubasingham's production works hard to blend an age-old tale into the concrete setting of the National Theatre. This version, and the equally long beach version I saw in Bali, make 'The Ramayana' an endearing and more importantly enduring adventure.

Click here to visit the National Theatre website.

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