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Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident – 4 Stars


Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident

Omnibus Theatre

Reviewed – 13th April 2018


“combining vivid metaphors, playful modern language and perfectly defined characters”


‘The Datia Incident’ not only describes a significant event in the vibrant life of Gauhar Jaan, India’s first recording star, but also conjures up a flavour of the life at that time. For all her success as an Indian courtesan, she was born Angelina Yeoward of Jewish Armenian parents and it was her mother who, after divorcing, embraced Islam and took the name Malak Jaan, giving her daughter the name Gauhar. They both trained in music and dance and Gauhar became courtesan for the Maharaja of Darbhanga at the age of fourteen. The play takes place in 1902 when she begins recording for the British Gramophone Company and when the infamous incident occurs. Fred Gaisberg is travelling across the country in search of the sounds of the East and is determined to record this acclaimed singer, also renowned for her ostentatious life-style.

Tarun Jasani’s beautiful writing lures us into this world of contrasts, combining vivid metaphors, playful modern language and perfectly defined characters and creates an elaborate work from a simple story embroidered in the minds of its tellers. He builds up an increasing sense of anticipation and fascination with the vocal fame of Gauhar Jaan which, losing ourselves in the complexities of the tale, we are regularly reminded of by the frustration of Gaisberg. Director, Mukul Ahmed, generates an evocatively composed and unhurried pace, accentuating the lack of urgency in these lives of luxury. Yet it is full of humour and pathos. The set (Sophie Jump) cleverly makes use of the full length of the theatre space as the Maharaja holds court at one end and normal life goes on at the other. The lighting (Paul Micah) artfully recreates the ambiance of the Indian setting and the sound (also Tarun Jasani) perfectly transports one to these faraway places. Traditional dancers bring a further element of opulence to the Maharaja’s court and adds greatly to the audience’s experience.

Sheetal Kapoor gives a powerful performance as Gauhar Jaan, exuding her indomitable self-importance with assertive control. The seemingly simple-minded Maharaja is charmingly played by Harmage Singh Kalirai, his true strength becoming apparent when confronted with a real fight and Devesh Kishore is excellent as his long-suffering servant, Bakshi Saheb, effectuating sympathy in his frustration to help his master and in his own fruitless situation. There is a wonderful portrayal by Jas Steven Singh of three astutely shaped individuals – three aspects of Indian society – who interact with Jordon Kemp’s elegantly enthusiastic Fred Gaisberg in inspired illustrations of the incompatibility of cultures.

‘Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident’ is exemplary of a skilfully crafted script which develops a storyline from a simple idea and, through the imagery of its language, the intertwining of dialogue and the bold, balanced, well-acted personalities, successfully brings to life a rich and enlightening piece of theatre.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington


Omnibus Theatre

Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident

Omnibus Theatre until 29th April



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