Taking an existing piece of art and refitting it for a modern audience is a challenging task in any medium but one that always seems best suited to the stage. Capturing the mood and harnessing the climate of a time is what great theatre does best and revisiting something that attempted to do the same on its debut is the gauntlet Nadia Fall has set herself as artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East.
The contemporary shift here proves effortless and pertinent.
Her debut is a raw, unflinching and respectful update of Lope Vega’s Fuenteovejuna, which itself was based on a real-life incident from 1476.
The contemporary shift here proves effortless and pertinent. At its best The Village is impressively thought provoking. Yet it is occasionally restrained, sluggish and scattergun with some staging and stylistic choices. So it is noticeable in moments where its elements fuse better because its pace picks up and it becomes far more engaging.
Village life for Jyoti is simple: the people work hard, sing and live off the earth. She would much rather devour a delicious meal than think about a suitable partner. But when the Inspector and his men arrive back in town, things quickly begin to sour. The Inspector’s reign of terror sees him commit unspeakable acts against the village with young Jyoti in his sights, pushing everyone to breaking point. Will she dare scorn his advances?
The stumbling blocks for this production were two things, namely the shifting of the action to modern day india with northern accented dialect and some of the limited set design which felt like it hindered movement and action, making proceedings often feel static, which then felt at odds with moments of stirring poetry, rhyme and lyricism. In fact it sometimes feels like too much is happening with too many people occupying your attention so trying to decipher and digest can be taxing.
Writer April De Angelis potently fuses themes of women’s liberation, masculine hierarchal traditions, power and brutality, nods to fake news, spin, Bollywood films, real life tragedies and crime all underlines and reminds us that in order to bring hard hitting topics to an audience we cannot be given an easy ride nor should it be forgiving. Our observation and participation can be misdirected or abused.
Acting-wise Anya Chalotra is a scene-stealer, showing much promise and delivering a charismatic stand out turn, effortlessly straddling moments of brevity with weightier moments
Acting-wise Anya Chalotra is a scene-stealer, showing much promise and delivering a charismatic stand out turn, effortlessly straddling moments of brevity with weightier moments. There are also strokes of something so clinically believable, compelling and challenging in Art Malik’s performance as the Inspector that you find yourself cursing his name, even at the curtain call.
The Village is a strong if not spectacular production lacking where it could have offered a fresh opinion on the more simplistic and binary themes of justice, especially for the age we’re living in. However as the first of Fall’s tenure, it signifies her intent, reignites a famous old theatre and suggests that what we can expect won’t shy away from some combustible material, bold voices and choices.