plot, 'The Ramayana' is the oft-repeated tale of Rama, Sita and
the monkey-god Hanuman who defeat the evil Ravana.
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.
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.
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.
is worth repeating the tale briefly, if only to illustrate what
a complex task Peter Oswald and Indhu Rubasingham have undertaken.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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