17th February 2007
The Lyric Hammersmith’s latest production is artistic director David Farr’s re-telling of the story of Rama and Sita – a love story that is both epic and comic.
This version, however, takes a while to get going and at first its tone seems uncertain. It is not clear what it is trying to achieve (education, entertainment or a combination of the two). Some of the dialogue seems ploddingly literal; describing rather than enhancing what is on the stage. The first jokes, when they finally arrive, are greeted with relief, as they indicate which way the production is going.
The style harks back to Kneehigh theatre, the previous occupants of the Lyric stage. Like them this production mixes low comedy with heightened emotion: except in Ramayana the low comedy isn’t always funny enough and the heightened emotion tends to lack the poetry and that heart tugging quality Kneehigh excel at. Further connection with that company is provided by the presence of Eva Magyar who appeared in both their Bacchae and Tristan & Yseult.
The cast is generally good. Richard Simons gives a fine comic performance as Hanuman the monkey god. He also does an excellent deer impersonation and was – coincidentally - a fine seagull in the Lyric’s Christmas show Watership Down. Eva Magyar as Ravana finally comes into her own during the vigorous battle with Paul Sharma’s Rama – one of the high points of the evening.
There is good physical business – Rama’s crossing of the ocean on bamboo poles for instance or Hanuman flying across an ocean and clambering over seats into the audience in search of Sita. The multi-headed monster Ravana is brilliantly depicted by means of 9 casts of Eva Magyar’s head. More invention of this level would have propelled the production to greater heights.
Indeed, its failure to rise far above the ground is echoed in the use of bamboo in the set. A striking forest of it adorns the stage and is used by the cast for positions of advantage above the action. But they – like the production - never rise more than a few feet above the ground. This feels like a wasted opportunity.
Meanwhile a live musician effectively mixes percussion with pre-recorded sounds on a raised platform at the back of the stage.
Ramayana is actually a bold attempt at staging this epic, but is only partially successful. It boasts some strong performances and striking visual tableaux, but it falls short of really bringing the story to satisfying and vibrant life.
Until 10th March