Reviewed – 24th August 2018
“the expertise and experience alongside a knowing script left the audience absorbed but not indulged”
Bad Hindu, written and performed by Sunandha Raghunathan at the Pentameters Theatre, is an impressive and enjoyable one-woman show, presenting Kattai Koothu (Tamil theatre) interwoven with the modern angst of who has the right to perform these culturally iconic stories.
Raghunathan sets out to tell the story of the Irivan, a character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata using expert Tamil song and dance alongside practised storytelling to lay out the tale of a young warrior prince selected to be the perfect sacrifice in the greatest war in history. Scattered through the one hour play is an interrupting voice (Raghunathan’s own) questioning her credentials to tell this story – the accusations both timeless and contemporary – “bad daughter” through to “bad feminist”. With each interjection, our performer shifts to conversational audience interaction and reintroduces the performance.
Raw quality shines through where it matters; singing and dancing are tight and meticulous, traditional makeup flawless and the storytelling packed with engrossing moments. Bringing epic Tamil theatre to a black box in leafy Hampstead has its risks but, in Bad Hindu, the expertise and experience alongside a knowing script left the audience absorbed but not indulged.
Leonie Scott-Matthews, Jane Ryan and Jasmine Teo lend the play a professional quality not often found above a pub in London. The minimal lighting of this black box theatre speaks but doesn’t shout as it guides the audience through a play with a non-western structure and pace.
That structure draws on a Tamil theatrical/cinematic tradition of interrupting the major narrative and, while this is fitting and helpful to emphasise the themes of the play, it did break up the momentum by the end. These interludes are central to differentiating Bad Hindu from being a ‘showcase’ but, by the end, their similarity did diminish the later examples. Six breaks, each in the same style as the last, with only minor variations on the message, were enough to make this audience member sigh a little at the seventh in sixty minutes.
Bad Hindu is a mature, skilful, but fun hour combining a west-end-quality performance, an obviously deep knowledge of and proficiency in Tamil theatre, all with the very Hampstead anxiety – am I good enough to be myself?
Reviewed by William Nash
Pentameters Theatre until 26th August