Brighton Fringe 2011
In an interview, Salman Rushdie once said – "I suppose one of the things that I really think, is that human beings are story-telling creatures. Our identity is bound up with the business of telling stories. Stories are part of the glue that holds families, tribes, nations together".
In this production, the director and his cast of young Performing Arts students have devised an inventive stage adaptation of a muti-layered, allegorical story; adapted from Salman Rushdie’s children’s book ‘Haroun and The Sea of Stories’, published in 1990.
The cast is made up of second year BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts (Level 3) students at City College Brighton and Hove; developing both their story-telling and performance skills. While writing his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s 9-year-old son Zafar said that he should write novels that children could read. In response, Rushdie promised that the next book he wrote would be one that his son might enjoy reading.
True to his word, Rushdie began to write the novel in the summer of 1989, a few months after the fatwa. It was Rushdie’s first novel after The Satanic Verses and won the Writer’s Guild Award (Best Children’s Book). The plot of Haroun and the Sea of Stories is based upon stories that Rushdie told to Zafar- father to son. Elements of the story have been drawn from Baum’s ‘The Wizard of O’z, Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, and the folktale of ‘Rapunzel’. Rushdie dedicated this book to Zafar, from whom he was separated for some time. Rushdie’s story was first made into a play based on the book and adapted for the stage, by Tim Supple and David Tushingham; with its stage premiere in 1998 at the Royal National Theatre in London.
This is a phantasmagorical story that lends itself so well to theatre, and an inspired choice by the director for his students: where physicality, costume, lighting, music, sound and simple but effective dramatic devices were richly used.
This story is a work of magic realism that begins in “a city so ruinously sad that it has forgotten its name…", located beside "a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy". The city has a factory which, it is said, that sadness is manufactured. Haroun takes us on a young boy’s journey to find the Sea of Stories so he can help his father, Rashid Khalifa, the famed storyteller known as the Shah of Blah, regain his ability to devise intricate stories to delight the masses.
Full of poetic language, the work is a social commentary on Indian society, politics and censorship. An allegory for several problems existing in society today, from the viewpoint of the young protagonist Haroun .If that sounds too heavy for you, not to worry; audiences can simply enjoy the story for its comic humour, colourful characters and fluid storytelling.
This production is a feast of kinetic communal storytelling of the original narrative: a happy fairy tale with adventures galore that can be enjoyed at different levels by all age groups. Under the inspirational, enthusiastic and experienced direction of their tutor (both students and college are very fortunate to have him teaching there) this company of young actors, in the process of learning their craft, have drawn on a healthy supply of youthful imagination, enabling them to tell a lively and colourful story on stage.
A rich suggestiveness is evoked by visual inventions with stunning simplicity of means: actors make buses crammed with people being driven at dangerous speed, characters fly through the air and travel across lakes, and huge reams of brightly coloured silk are used to evoke lakes, oceans, rivers and skies. In terms of acting ability, special mention must go to two young actors in particular.
Firstly, the actor who plays the part of Mudra, who reveals Khattam-Shud’s division of himself into two shadowy figures whereof one is an anthropomorphic shadow and the other a diminished man. Mudra is mute, being able only to communicate his own name and the fact that he "speaks" by means of Abhinaya, a type of sign language used in classical Indian dance. The actress here performs this dance beautifully, and with some considerable skill.
Secondly, the actor playing the part of Blabbbermouth, a talkative, stubborn girl, who has disguised herself as a boy, and is skilled at the art of juggling, which Haroun compares to storytelling. This young actress shows skill, presence and utter commitment to all the roles played. In terms of the performance skills of the whole cast: projection was generally not a problem, but there were other unfortunate vocal issues evident in some of the performances: issues such as articulation, breath control, and pitch; not to mention that one of the actors seemed to keep fluffing their lines.
Overall though, the whole cast worked extremely well together as an ensemble; and the most successful aspect of the show was the manner in which the actors connected and communicated with the audience, facilitated greatly by good staging decisions: the audience in-the-round, the actors often placed on all four edges of the audience, and playing outwards to chosen sections of the audience – often employing well-placed physical theatre techniques, moving in synchronicity with the narration of the story by other actors.
Overall, this was a playful evening that older children and adults who are young at heart would both appreciate. A very worthwhile and reviving antidote to the kind of take-itself-too-seriously theatre that despises imagination and has abandoned life-giving song and dance and stories; thereby rendering itself dull and dreary.
Credit must be given to each and every cast member due to the nature of this ensemble production, who all did a good job of presenting this show with appropriate childlike enthusiasm.