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Isabella James

Review: THREE SAT UNDER THE BANYAN TREE at Polka Theatre

Three Sat Under the Banyan Tree Polka Theatre has joined forces with Tara Arts to retell some traditional Indian folk tales in a vibrant, warm performance for under 7s. The three stories are interwoven with the tale of three orphans; Jasmine (Medhavi Patel), Mahendra (Raj Swamy) and Jayaben (Rose-Marie Christian) who are joined as family by their adopted father.

The play opens with the children discussing what their future holds now their father has died and where they need to travel to be safe from the soldiers who took their Dad. He left them with a magical book and told them to travel to the Banyan Tree to read aloud and find the guidance they are looking for.

Each child takes on the reading of a story based around an animal; a crow, a mongoose and a tiger and the actors leap into life to take on a variety of animal and human characters. The three stories are quite strange in content and certainly contain dark themes. Writer Shamser Sinha has done well to take the bizarre nature of the ancient fables and pull out meaning for the orphans to learn from. The actors also do a brilliant job of characterising the animals both physically and vocally. Rose-Marie Christian was especially engaging in her role as ‘Jackal’ in the tale of the tiger.

For younger viewers there may have been some confusion in the narrative of the stories, and there seemed to be lots of darker undercurrents around themes of death, fear and ‘bad adults’. However, the beauty of the production means little ones will enjoy watching for the 90 minutes, with stimulating rhythms, audience interaction, clever mask and puppetry work as well as a lovely, colourful lighting design. The bare, beige stage is clever in its neutrality as it lends itself to the shifting nature of the play’s locations. The leaves of the Banyan Tree become great feathered wings as well as the scales of the large King Cobra.

 The production has done well to encapsulate the aesthetics of Indian Culture; full of colour, life and music. The morals of the fables are well clarified and each of the orphans learn different lessons from the stories. For younger audiences, it is a really nice way to experience and engage with Indian culture in a way that is less ‘disneyfied’ and more traditional. Perfect as a pre-Diwali treat.