Red Ladder Theatre Company
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and touring
While Kaahini, written 'by award winning playwright Maya Chowdhry,' does indeed use poetic language, what exactly that poetry is meant to convey is anybody's guess.
The play involves prophetic dreams of snakes and blood, sexual confusion amongst teenagers, and parents whose marriage is on the rocks. By the end of the play, Chowdhry's scatter-shot approach to the mass of stories means that while many issues are raised, none are ever explored to their fullest potential, and none of the themes she may wish the audience to reflect on are ever debated in depth.
Initial traces of Virginia Woolf's Orlando are intriguing, but fade quickly when we realize there is a practical (and, no matter how much a culture favours the production of sons, wholly unbelievable) explanation for Esha's sexual uncertainty.
There are some interesting relationships between characters - primarily the Farooq/Esha/Kaahini triangle - but Chowdhry is trying to squeeze so much into this hour-long play that they're never fully explored.
This is a common theme throughout the piece, right down to the design specifications. Early, innovative use of film projections (Shanaz Gulzar), which the performers interact with, are truly interesting - but after an initial moment they are abandoned, rendering them pointless. The play incorporates a bit of dance, but it is overly simplistic and too heavy-handed to add to the text. Nat Tarrab's set is visually interesting, but the (inexplicable) movement of large red blocks around the set seems useful only insofar as it makes thing seem a bit busier when they start to slow down.
Rod Dixon's direction leaves much to be desired, as do the performances from each of the actors (none of whom are identified by character in the programme). Esha's father is a wooden, unsympathetic caricature - the strict Asian father who only cares about his son's studies. His mother is slightly better, although this is mostly due to the active role she plays in the unwinding of Esha's mysterious sexuality. Farooq, who has one of the more interesting parts to play as a sex-mad sixteen year old, is played as if he were a Blue Peter presenter - and a 12-year-old one at that. Esha is primarily a one-trick pony, constantly footballing and moping, although at least that performer gets to play both Esha and Kaahini as tortured souls.
As unimpressive as it is, Chowdry's one achievement with Kaahini is that she manages to sustain the interest of the audience for the full hour, largely due to the mystery surrounding Esha's sexual confusion. When the mundane explanation for this is revealed, the strings of tension that have been holding this play up all along are, without ceremony, cut.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody