sat 23/09/2017

No Dogs, No Indians, Brighton Festival review – poor production shoulders too big a task | reviews, news & interviews

No Dogs, No Indians, Brighton Festival review – poor production shoulders too big a task

No Dogs, No Indians, Brighton Festival review – poor production shoulders too big a task

World premiere of Siddhartha Bose's new play empties seats by packing too much in

No Dogs, No Indians at The Spire as part of Brighton Festival 2017

A whacking great story has gone largely untold in British theatre: the legacy of colonialism in India, including the cultural ghosts the British left behind. With the 70th anniversary of Indian independence just round the corner this summer, poet and playwright Siddhartha Bose has set out to address this "historical amnesia". Premiering at Brighton Festival ahead of a UK tour, No Dogs, No Indians shuffles three periods in Indian history and aims to deal big questions about the values of remembering and forgetting, resisting and assimilating, loving and leaving. Let’s just say we had the word "epic" on standby.

But, as the empty seats after the interval testify, something has gone very wrong with this commission. Bose, whose previous stage works include 2011’s urban poetic monologue Kalagora, seems technically and tonally ill at ease with a two-hour, four-actor, 11-part play. Director Russell Bender, despite being a graduate of the Lecoq school, has produced a staging so dated, slow and unimaginatively literal it could put newcomers off theatre for life. It comes as a huge surprise to look at the programme and see credits for a designer, a lighting designer and a sound designer. For all the aesthetic impact, it may as well have been one man with a van.

Temporal shifts are announced with an unearned archness

We begin in modern day Bombay, where three friends snort coke, listen to drum 'n' bass and praise the hedonism and materialism of New India. From there to 1970s post-independence Kolkata, where an amateur actor and inspiring intellectual is preparing to take to the stage as Richard III, sharpening his Anglicised accent and dabbing white powder on his face. The third timeline belongs to the true story of Pritilata Waddedar, a young female revolutionary who died leading an attack on an all-whites club in Chittagong in 1932. The temporal shifts are announced with an unearned archness by Archana Ramaswamy’s Mother India, who freezes and unfreezes performers into awkward tableaux with clicks of her fingers.  

The production is so consistently amateur, you begin to wonder if it’s deliberate. There are shoddy sound-effects of doors opening and cutlery clinking. Komal Amin, as Waddedar, shows anger and inspiration with two fists clenched stiffly in front of her, and moral hesitation by leaving a big pause before the word "massacre". Bose includes a shocking quote from British politician Thomas Macaulay, who wanted to create "a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect". Is Bender making a point about cultural colonisation? Is the production supposed to feel as artificial and lifeless as the character of the Shakespeare-loving intellectual, so consumed with his fantasy of Englishness that he can't engage with his own wife and son?

But there are issues with the writing, too, from the management of the plot to the sarcastic jokes and metaphors that fall flat. This is a huge shame, because there are big and important ideas in here, and the script isn’t short on insight or information, either. It was interesting to learn that English Literature as a subject of study began in Kolkata, not London, and the audience enjoyed the clever vignette linking philosophy and shitting. It’s jarring to be reminded that clubs in colonial India really did bear signs reading "no dogs, no Indians".

You’re left with the sad impression of a play and a production shouldering too big a task. The disappointing quality suggests Brighton Festival should have done more to engage with the UK Indian Year of Culture, not less.  

  • No Dogs, No Indians is at the Southbank Centre 21 May, Norwich Festival 24 May and Newcastle Live Theatre 19-20 June 2017
The production is so consistently amateur, you begin to wonder if it’s deliberate

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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