Tag Archives: Sheetal Kapoor



The Hope Theatre

THE LESSON at The Hope Theatre



“The dialogue, in the hands of the accomplished trio of actors, is music (sometimes thrillingly discordant) to the ears throughout”


Written in 1950, Eugene Ionesco’s “The Lesson” has lost none of its strangeness, nor its resonance. It exemplifies what has been coined ‘Theatre of the absurd’ of which Ionesco is master. A powerful three hander it beats to the palpitating rhythm of a macabre merry-go-round upon which the archetypal characters of the Professor, the Pupil and the Maid are fated to ride.

The Maid is busy mopping the floor of the Professor’s study as the audience take their seats. A seemingly innocuous pre-show. For those familiar with the play, I don’t need to state its significance; and for those unfamiliar, I won’t. So let the lesson begin. The Maid fussily withdraws having ushered in the new Pupil. It gets off to a smooth start but it’s not long before the Professor becomes increasingly frustrated with his protégé’s inability to grasp the rudiments of mathematics. Roger Alborough wastes no time establishing his stage presence with a performance that is chillingly playful. But playful in the way a predator teases with its prey.

Sheetal Kapoor is quite extraordinary as the Pupil, transforming from compliant, naïve schoolgirl into a shattered marionette. As her enthusiasm for the lesson deteriorates her toothache increases; clearly a metaphor for her psychological pain. In fact, the whole play is a metaphor, a cautionary tale for today, further exemplified by Joan Potter’s Maid who repeatedly has to clean up the mess. Potter makes the sinister aspects of this play quite palpable with an understated performance pitched with just the right amount of irony. Yes, it’s gruesome but, hey, it’s absurd so it’s okay to laugh.

Donald Watson’s translation is further heightened under Matthew Parker’s slick direction. The dialogue, in the hands of the accomplished trio of actors, is music (sometimes thrillingly discordant) to the ears throughout. Repeated banalities, unshackled illogicality and non sequiturs all compete for air time. Comedy and violence, absurdity and disturbance, mystery and fear all go hand in hand; so the audience’s reactions are varied. While some are laughing, others are recoiling in horror.

The experience is sharpened by the confines of the space. Encased in the round, neither the actors nor the audience have room to escape, and there’s even less room for a fourth wall. Although the cast never address the audience directly we are drawn into the impossible dialogue: there is no barrier between us and them, between reality and fantasy, which intensifies the unnerving quality of the writing. Simon Arrowsmith’s filmic sound design adds the final layer; a gossamer cloak of atmosphere that fits the action perfectly.

Gripping through to the final scene in which the absurdity pours over the action like blood from a knife wound, “The Lesson” has something to teach us all. And this production at the Hope Theatre is, without a doubt, a high-grade lesson in theatre making.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Reviewed – 27th September 2018

Photography by LH Photography


The Lesson

Hope Theatre until 13th October


Previously reviewed at The Hope:
My Gay Best Friend | ★★★★★ | January 2018
Foul Pages | ★★★ | February 2018
Moments / Empty Beds | ★★★★ | February 2018
My Evolution of the Cave Painting | ★★★★ | February 2018
Our Big Love Story | ★★ | March 2018
Cream Tea & Incest | ★★★★ | April 2018
Adam & Eve | ★★★★ | May 2018
Worth a Flutter | ★★ | May 2018
Cockamamy | ★★★★ | June 2018
Fat Jewels | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018


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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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