Review: Squashed Mango’s ‘Sita’

Sita is a devised show that has been created by Squashed Mango, telling the Hindu story of Ramayana from a distinctly feminist perspective through the medium of physical theatre. Aesthetically beautiful with an interesting premise, the show slightly misses the mark in terms of story development, and the physical sequences, while executed impressively, sometimes feel superfluous. Despite this, the show is charming, and provides an enjoyable hour of entertainment at the end of term.

From the moment of walking into the Assembly Rooms, the stage design of Sita is intriguing and effective. The entire stage and all the costumes are white, creating a clinical feeling subverting the recognisable domestic setting of a wealthy family dining room. The actors were already in character, and Dorottya Farkas’ characterisation as a child was hilarious from the get-go, rolling on the floor, tapping her feet and doing the casual summersault here and there. When Amelia Melvin and Cameron Ashplant launch into a carefully choreographed dance routine which Farkas’ character doesn’t know and comically tries to imitate, it becomes clear her character doesn’t fit into the traditional world being created. As the show progresses, Farkas throws coloured powder paint at the characters at different points; while I wasn’t sure what this is meant to represent, the visual impact is certainly striking and has an exciting effect.

The lighting design is also effective, setting the atmosphere from the green of the forest to the cold blue when Sita is imprisoned. Farkas’ use of a handlight throughout to signify scene transitions, while initially confusing, proved quite effective for slick transitions, though the change in music makes this clear as well, going from classical music to sitar and traditional Indian instruments to show the transition from parlour to imagination. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which the light was stolen from Dorka after Sita is abducted; the guards throwing the light from person to person was a beautifully subtle way to show that Farkas’ character has lost narrative control of the story she herself is imagining.

The physical aspect of the show is striking, and in many ways effective. The frequent use of pair work for example helps build relationships between characters. I particularly enjoyed the fight scene between Molly Goetzee and Amelia Melvin using brooms, where both actors reacted perfectly in time to strokes inflicted from opposite ends of the stage. The use of puppetry also inserted a beautifully childish element, reminding us that this story has come from the imagination of a child. However, I wished the physical sequences had integrated better into the story. Near the end of the show, Farkas performed an amazing movement routine, which, while breath-taking, didn’t really develop the story the show wanted to tell. I also felt some of the movement sequences like the through by rounds could have been developed further, as they became slightly repetitive. However, the movement sequences are all slick and executed with care and precision; director Layla Chowdury has clearly worked hard with her cast to create this polished effect.

The acting is believable and engaging, though the only character who really receives any development is the title character Sita played by Amelia Melvin. Her compellingly delivered monologues hold the narrative together, and her engaging storytelling draws us into the story of this lively, incredibly brave woman. I was particularly impressed by the choice to end the show not with resolution, but with Sita’s enduring anger and rebellion. The ensemble work well to multi-role the other characters, though some characters such as Ram struck me as slightly one dimensional. It must also be said that this show effectively draws attention to the lack of ethnic diversity in Durham, as it was slightly uncomfortable to watch a white actress play the role of the Indian princess Sita, though this is of course not the fault of the production itself; if anything, Durham needs more shows like this which address this issue.

It seems that Sita is more of a visual spectacle than a narrative piece, as engaging storytelling and polished physical sequences do not quite cohesively come together. To me, the best moments of the show are the moments which embrace a sense of childish fun, which makes sense considering the show is intended to appeal to children. Overall, Sita is an enjoyable, thoughtful show which clearly has a lot of passion behind it and deserves a large audience for its final performance tonight.

Image by Julia Tosia Ryng and Alice Aucott

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