A very interesting play, that from the very first moment that you enter the auditorium, Rani Moorthy invites the audience to participate in the show. She engages the audience and takes them through an amazing journey where they are surrounded with culture, contradiction, history and perception. She uses draped saris as props, video clips, poetry, and music to help act out the story of five very different characters, telling their story of how the six yards of cloth, the sari, is perceived.
The first character Rani plays is an old Indian woman in the UK. The sari for her is like a liberating second skin, something that one can wear while carrying out household chores; to going to the bazaar, to having a quick romp to doing puja, to being a symbol of purity, to giving birth in – an amazing garment. But to those around Rani, the sari is a restrictive garment that isn’t understood or appreciated. At times she is mocked for wearing such a costume and at other times she is ignored. She is not sure which is worst.
In a war zone, we are faced with Rani’s second character, a young woman in a sari giving birth to twins, while bombs are going off. She tells stories to her newborn, of how life will be when they are safe in Canada.
The auditorium is filled with hip-hop music, as Rani takes on her next character as a hip-hop artist. Her girlfriend is besotted with the Bollywood culture, but it hurts Rani deeply when she discovers that her girlfriend is in love with her exotic Bollywoodness and not her. Rani then transports herself to a museum to play the fourth character, where only she has the expertise to deliver an exhibition on saris, yet she is not allowed to publicly take the credit for it. She is just too brown.
Rani plays her final character, a low caste sari maker, who isn’t privileged to wear such elegant saris, even if she made them with her own hands. She is surprised that her son is able to sell them on eBay worldwide, as she prepares herself to say goodbye to the world and the audience.
Each story is amazing and leaves you with a different perspective of how the sari has been perceived, appreciated and how Rani is very aware of when she has been taken advantage of, or not.
The humour that she uses and the manner in which she engages the audience is impressive, it masks the amount of in-depth information and knowledge that you absorb effortlessly about six yards of cloth, or I ask myself is it nine yards, or more? You quickly realise there are many different ways of draping a sari, different materials from silk to cotton, different saris for different occasions, different colours and different lengths, all having their own special meaning.
Here I was thinking I knew everything there is to know about a sari! How wrong.
Review by Shaidi Ramsurrun
Six yards of cloth, wound round tight,
Or draped seductively ,
Or practically, for breastfeeding,
Or pulled between thighs to walk like a man,
Or wildly thrown together, with Doc Martin boots,
A modest proposal or a political act or a defiant one.
Bold and powerful theatre that takes you beyond the Bollywood wet sari! By turns funny and poignant, 5 characters share their sari tales; from an old Asian woman whose saris are like her second skin, a young mother giving birth in a war zone wrapping her twin babies in her wedding sari, a Malaysian historian connects the sari with mythology, a transgender reflects on his girlfriend’s sari obsession, a low caste weaver and a character who contemplates the sari in her final hours.
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 1BN
Thu 24th Nov – Sat 17th Dec 2016