“This” said my friend as the lights went up for the interval, “is torture“.
It was such a shame. It promised to be a great theatrical event – five years in the making with contributions from an award-winning composer, lyricist and choreographer and including puppetry and video projection. Unfortunately it was a complete mess.
The lyrics were perhaps the worst part of this anti-gestalt entity. Banal nigh unto nausea with the plodding rhymes of greeting card doggerel. These lyrics had been set to (or had composed for them) almost equally tedious music. They were then sung by vocalists of such mediocre-to-non-existent talent that ones ears curled in an effort to block out the noise. Particularly disappointing since I’m a great fan of Nitin Sawhney.
The dancing, apparently a whole “new vocabulary”, failed to communicate anything very much. The battle scene in particular, allegedly the war to end all wars, the ushering in of a new dark age, resembled a small-scale difference between drunken morris dancers holding garden canes.
Both the video projections and the puppetry were badly-executed tokenistic add-ons which merely served to highlight rather than cover the gaping cracks.
The god Krishna was on stage for most of the performance. Sadly for one supposed to be the powerful all-attractive deity, prince, warrior and philosopher, he was a decidedly uncommanding presence being small and dumpy, and sported something which looked disturbingly like a vestigial chest-wig but might have been some form of necklace. We, in our top-price seats, were too far away to tell.
Also hugely disappointing was the compacting of the Bhagavad Gita into a couple of minutes of stilted and bizarre dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna which appeared, in summary, to be “it’s ok to kill people because they have another life anyway”. However the quotation made famous in the west by Robert Oppenheimer, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” was put in the mouth of Draupadi, the heroine from whose point of view the story had been reworked.
It wasn’t entirely dreadful. When anyone sang in a language other than English both the delivery and scoring was noticeably superior. The “pas de deux” between Draupadi and Arjuna was well done, set to a track from one of Nitin Sawhney’s albums. The set, a Frank Gehry-esque metallic-looking sweeping curve of a rampart, was wonderful but ill-used.
However the evening would best be summed up by the lyrics droned repeatedly by Draupadi in a sub-Lloyd-Webber fashion: “when will it end?“.
Answer: not soon enough.