Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 5-Sat 9 Jun


East meets West is often a tricky encounter. Can either of us truly reproduce the culture and sensibilities of the other? Director Stuart Wood’s version of the ancient epic Indian poem, Mahabharata, chooses to combine the two. ‘We use Western modern theatre practice coupled with an ancient Hindu text so there’s a duality.’

‘It’s a massive epic story,’ he continues. ‘Our version centres on the story of Draupadi. She is won as a wife but when the prince takes her home he’s forced to share her with his five brothers. The eldest loses her in a dice game, and just as she is about to be stripped in front of the court, Krishna saves her modesty. She then urges them all to fight for her honour, leading to an apocalyptic war. By focusing on her you get an impression of what this great story is all about without compromising it too much in two-and-a-half hours.’

Wood goes on to describe the importance of the Mahbharata. ‘Not only is it the centrepiece of a huge world faith, it’s not defunct, it’s a part of everyday Hindu life and culture, in a way that’s so alien to a Western culture where religion is reserved for Sundays or not at all.’

Using an international cast of performers, puppeteers, dancers, singers and musicians, Wood, along with revered composer Nitin Sawhney, award-winning writer Stephen Clark and choreographer and Kathak expert Gauri Sharma Tripathi, has strived to create a new version of this classic which blends Hindu tradition with contemporary inflections. ‘It’s morally contentious in an age where we look for simple solutions,’ says Wood. After a sell out run at Sadler’s Wells in London, the tour is off to a promising start. ‘It’s full of questions. So I hope on one level that it’s a great evening of theatre but I hope people go away and question.’

(Greer Ogston)

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