I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
Runaway girls can never stop running
bAKEHOUSE Theatre prove yet again that they are at the forefront of telling cross-cultural and diverse stories with the newest offering, Jatinga. Commissioned by the company and written by Hindi playwright, Purva Naresh, this brave and provocative work transports the audience to India and leaves them shaken by what is revealed throughout the play.
Trishala Sharma as Champa - Image courtesy of Natasha Narula
Jatinga itself is a small village in India known for its yearly mass bird suicides, where birds flock to the town and fly over a steep ridge, crashing to the ground below. It's a morbid tourist attraction that baffles scientists and draws visitors from all over. Naresh's play overlays this macabre phenomenon with the stories of five young Indian girls running away from abuse, famine and oppression.
Along the way, on the train to Jatinga, the girls meet a middle class female journalist (Suz Mawer) who listens to their stories and tries to protect them on the long journey with devastating results.
Sheila Kumar as Nandi - Image courtesy of Natasha Narula
Immediately on stepping into the theatre, memories of my 2014 trip to India are triggered by Benjamin Brockman's stunning design. Coloured cloths hang from the roof and corrugated iron shanty shacks with dodgy wiring border the playing space. It's so authentic and truly creates a world so vivid it was easy to forget I was in King's Cross and not Mumbai. This, coupled with the unnerving and eerie sound design and composition from Nate Edmondson creates a magical atmosphere of uncertainty and unfamiliarity that subtly brings the show to its climax.
Amrik Tumber in Jatinga - Image courtesy of Natasha Narula
Suzanne Millar's direction of this piece is superb. The small playing space at the bAKEHOUSE Theatre provides a challenge for a cast of this size, but Millar's production navigates the stage with ease using dreamlike choreography and layered staging to contrast gritty realism and trancelike fantasy. The play runs for 85 minutes with no interval and Millar's direction keeps the audience captivated for every single one of those minutes.
Suz Mawer as Madhumita - Image courtesy of Natasha Narula
Truly an ensemble cast, this group of talented actors show that they have the chops to pull off this difficult work and skilfully switch between the dreamlike sequences to scene work with aplomb. Suz Mawer is exceptional in her role as the conflicted journalist, Bali Padda is intimidating and impassioned in his turn as a violent rebel leader on the train and Monroe Reimers is nauseating (in a good way) in his role as a tourist operator trying to benefit from the bird suicides.
The five runaway girls present a formidable ensemble and the performances by Faezeh Jalali, Sheila Kumar and Teresa Tate Britten as a trio of orphaned sisters are particularly poignant. Some lines from both Trishala Sharma and Terese Tate Britten both become a little too shouted, but quite honestly it is a small criticism in a work that is so excellently executed. A special mention goes to Sapna Bhavnani as the very old woman wailing for the birds who is incredibly captivating without uttering a word for most of the play.
Jatinga is an important work on many levels. The Jatinga Project, which is in progress to really affect positive change in the lives of women and girls in India is a brilliant cause and one that deserves support. bAKEHOUSE Theatre is constantly working to break down gender disparity on Australian stages, promote diversity and give back to the community and this production of Jatinga is a bold, brave and critical step in the journey.