The Village at Theatre Royal Stratford East
The internet, iPhones, space travel, cars, democratic government and… Jeff Goldblum. The list could be much longer but those are just some of the differences between 1618 – when Lope de Vega wrote Fuenteovejuna – and 2018 when April de Angelis transported his tale to India with her adaptation, The Village. And yet the oppression of women, and specifically their sexual exploitation by men in positions of power, is a theme that translates all too well to 2018.
The village in question, Sahaspur, comes under the control of the inspector – an apparent hangover from Britain’s colonial occupation – who is determined to stoke religious tensions, hold on to power and sate his own sexual desires through any means necessary. Its inhabitants suffer the consequences, but will not do so indefinitely. Led by Joyti (Anya Chalotra), and the other women of the village, there will be a reckoning (and a jaw-dropping dance sequence).
Despite the geographical and temporal shift requiring a near complete rewrite, The Village retains the play’s original couplets. Aside from fidelity to de Vega’s work, this highlights the fact that even here, in a modern state, in 2018 and post-#MeToo these issues still happen. Ultimately, though, the metre and rhyme are often slightly intrusive, especially in serious or romantic scenes, serving to distance the audience from the drama and violence rather than immersing them.
Anya Chalotra is a star. As the arch, hard-hearted Joyti of the play’s early acts her eyes glint with mischief and wit, radiating assuredness. Her transformation into the angry, vengeful, Boudicca-esque leader in the second half of the piece demonstrates the performer’s wonderful range – matched only by her singing voice.
Jyoti’s taboo relationship with the Islamic Farooq (Scott Karim) is unconvincing, however – his overtures particularly stilted as a result of his reliance on rhyme. Rina Fatania, as the protagonist’s friend and confidante, Panna, is glorious – and responsible for the funniest moment of the play without the need to say a word.
The Village is packed with references to Indian cuisine, Bollywood stars and contemporary politics – the inspector’s acts of cruelty are explicitly attributed to Narendra Modi and his BJP party. However, all of these elements, and especially the latter, are treated relatively superficially. They provide laughs, add colour and some context without ever amounting to an in-depth portrait of modern India. The play’s morality is binary, which is perfectly justified on an ethical level given the power structures at play of course, but that doesn’t lend itself to an especially engrossing journey.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then Sahaspur can be rightly proud of their heroine Jyoti, but the rest of this piece fails to fully deliver.
Photo: Johan Persson
The Village is at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 7th September until 6th October 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.