The constant drizzle, bare-branched trees and waning hours of daylight can make the winter months in Durham a bit of a struggle for us all. Thankfully, the Assembly Rooms is hosting Squashed Mango Theatre Company’s Sita this week to bring a burst of much needed vibrancy and colour to these wintery days.
Sita follows the classical Indian story of Ramayana through the eyes of young child, brimming with creativity, who is bored at an adult dinner party. With this young imagination, the play is able to change the focus of the traditional myth on to the character of Sita, allowing for a novel twist on a classical tale.
Regional traditions in India relate Ramayana to the celebration of Diwali: a festival of light, held between October and November, that hails the triumph of good and knowledge over evil and ignorance. This time of year, when conversations, jumpers and shop-windows alike are adorned with firs, bells and a certain red-nosed creature, little thought is given to anything other than Christian celebration. Sita, then, brings its audiences an insightful, alternative perspective to this time of year.
In an interview with First Night, director Layla Chowdhury revealed that a key element of the show is colour, itself a fundamental and joyful trait of Indian culture. Set against a white dining room backdrop, the show promises to explode with neon paints, which accompany the actors’ expressive, physical theatre on stage, devised specifically for this performance.
These theatrical techniques are reflective of a rich history of Indian theatre, which has always centred around visual stimulation since its foundation approximately 5000 years ago. In fact, the very first book on drama, the Natya Shahtra, was penned by Bharat Muni in India alone. The large number of ethnic groups in India means that there is also, and always has been, a large number of varied folk and regional theatre groups and traditions. Yet loud music, dance, masks, puppetry and chorus singing remain crucial and uniting elements of all these otherwise different traditional forms.
Such an innately celebratory and vibrant culture promises to provide an evening of similarly enthusing theatre at a time of year when a bit of colour and vivacity is certainly needed. Rather than looking to some tacky, wooly monstrosity for a pick-me-up, however, the cast and crew of Sita offers you submersion in Indian mythology and childish imagination for some seasonal magic.
By Elvira Parr