Review by David Munro
HOW many people now know or care about Warren Hastings’
role in the annexation of India for the East India Company? Not
many, I imagine, yet Tara Arts are presenting a play about that
period in Indian history on a tour which is now playing at the
Clocktower Croydon - Mandragora King of India.
The author, Nirjay Mahindru, has elected to deal with his subject
in a stylised, almost Kabuki manner, a sort of Indian Pacific
Overtures, but in the style of English Theatre of a century
earlier, a sort of Elizo-Jacobean Kabuki with rhymed couplets
and mock heroic declamatory speeches.
Sadly, the author allows his idea to founder under the exuberance
of his verbosity, so what might have been a mildly amusing one-act
jeu d’esprit becomes a two act, slightly pretentious play.
The story is seen through the eyes of the Indians and the 'Chalky
Whites', as they call the English marauders, are the villains;
a perspective not so far from the historical truth.
Warren Hasting is alleged to have stolen the Koh-I-Noor diamond
from the eponymous Mandragora and the plot, if such there be,
revolves around the King’s attempts to retrieve it, which
results in war between him and Hastings and his Indian supporters
resulting in Hastings’ death – or so it would seem.
All this historical flummery takes place on an almost bare stage,
with three Pollock-Style prosceniums at the rear for concealing
characters and allowing for costume changes.
For there are only six actors who
have to portray the main characters of the drama which they do
James Bellorini makes a noble Indian Soldier alternate with
the devious Hastings; Anthony Bunsee contrasts the noble Madragora
with a devious but very funny Indian soldier; Marc Elliott is
a degenerate English aristocrat and Mandragora’s wise counsellor;
while Arif Javid manages to combine the role of a conjuring Master
of Ceremonies, Court poet and Buffoon with a turncoat Indian nobleman
all with the greatest skill and conviction.
The two women in the cast, Dino Mousawi and Katie Pattison, play
an Indian girl and English Lady respectively, the latter also
turning up as an Indian psychic when the plot, or the King, demands.
This is a play where the parts are definitely better than the
whole and they are directed by Jatintinder Verma with assurance,
even if one feels one is watching a puppet play with real actors.
Perhaps that is what he intended, as the stylisation of the writing
certainly calls for a similar characterisation in the presentation.
As a one-off, this is an interesting evening but not one I would
necessarily wish to repeat.
Mandragora King of India by Nirjay Mahindru; Director,
Jatinder Verma; Designer, Claudia Meyer; Lighting, Jonathan Clark;
Music, Chandran Veyattummai.
CAST: James Bellorini; Antony Bunsee; Marc Elliott; Arif Javid;
Dina Mousawi; Katie Pattinson.
Presented by Tara Arts
Croydon Clocktower, Katherine Street, Croydon.
Thursday, September 30 - Saturday, October 2.
Box Office 020 8253 1030.