I Was There: The Mahabharata
Peter Brook had proved prescient in the selection of Tramway as the venue for The Mahabharata, but in doing so had set a challenge for such out-of-town audiences as myself in finding a venue that had never been used for theatre until that point. The anxiety that, never having been to Glasgow’s Southside, let alone the venue, myself and my companion wouldn’t find our way to it through the dreich Glasgow weather was overwhelming.
Brook’s epic of war, human suffering and enlightenment made the journey more than worthwhile, and put Tramway at the centre of theatrical innovation for years to come. What most impressed about the sprawling nine-hour epic was that so much of it, while addressing vast political and existential issues, operated on an intimate human scale. Brook’s capacity to delineate individual human dilemmas within a multiply-peopled stage was awe-inspiring. So too the series of massive transitions required by the text, which became less a staging problem than an opportunity to demonstrate impressive theatrical inventiveness. The Mahabharata amounted to both parable and theatre, opening to its audiences a largely unfamiliar parallel form of Bible story from an equally holy text.