Nine Hills One Valley, Ratan Thiyam’s Chorus Repertory Theatre of Manipur

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the Barbican to see this. I saw the words Manipur dancers, puppets, play and booked. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, not that I was expecting anything in particular – perhaps a mixture of dance and story telling or something, but this, this was … oh, it just felt old.

Old how? Well somewhere between agit – prop and Brechtian, his was a very political piece and to me the metaphors and symbolism came like very large bricks being tossed at my head. That’s not to say it was a bad show, I could think of heaps of people who would love it … just not me. In fact, it’s taken me the best part of a week to write this review because, well, as vivid as the images were, I just didn’t engage with it.

What happened? Well there’s a chorus that calls out for the elders to awaken and save the land they have neglected; the wise men appear along the back of the stage (have to say, the lighting was very good, nice use of corridors of light to define the space) they’re sleeping until one jolts awake saying he’s had a nightmare (land being ravaged etc) but they laugh it off and go back to sleep; Manipuri dancers come out and begin a dance but are soon interrupted by a demon who chops their hands off. Actually that was one of the better images of the play as the dancers continue with red ribbons of blood from their stumps and a bag of hands also dancing. I won’t keep going with the play – I have a programme to remind me of it.

I feel bad, I should support political theatre and Indian playwrights and … oh, who am I kidding, the heavy handedness put me off. I’m really sorry, I’ve tried and tried, but I just didn’t like (or for that matter dislike) the play enough to give it a decent review. A political play that left little impact (on me anyway) – what have I learned? Polemics are a turn off.

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