BWW Review: THE VILLAGE, Theatre Royal Stratford East
April De Angelis has transposed Lope De Vega's Fuenteovejuna into contemporary day India, setting it in an environment of political turmoil. The Inspector uses his state-given power to abuse the local villagers, who just want to live off the land in peace. His tyrannical reign pushes everyone to the edge, until it's all too much and they decide to strike back.
Nadia Fall's production is her first as Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East. It's also the first show in her new season, which additionally includes theatre heavyweights such as Ned Bennett, Frantic Assembly, Anna Jordan and Lyndsey Turner, amongst others. The pressure's on to succeed; but unfortunately The Village leaves a lot to be desired.
A clunky set design from Joanna Scotcher does the actors no favours - there's too much going on; a large mound of dirt takes up the majority of the playing space, resulting in the performers movements being restricted. Added to that, a fair few times there's too many people on stage at any one time, and this overcrowding means that people frequently get in each other's way.
Falls direction draws out strong performances from the majority, with specific highlights coming from Anya Chalotra's protagonist Jyoti and her erratic sidekick Panna, played by Rina Fatania. Both ladies play off one another well, providing some strong banter and many comedic moments. Fatania's over the top, expressive delivery is a joyous thing to watch - her high energy radiates and is much needed.
Chalotra delicately navigates between many character emotions. She performs the role with sensitivity, painting Jyoti to be naïve and coy, whilst at the same time shows her to be bold, brave and a true hero. We believe her character, which is a relief considering other actors perform their part in more of a pantomimic way.
This is at times jarring to watch, as their exaggerated delivery comes across as dishonest and forced. And it's a real shame this happens because De Angelis' text has a beautiful lyricism to it. Its rhythm is poetic and delightful to listen to. When the cast trust in the words and let them do the speaking, it's magic. When they don't, and overcompensate, it gets a bit too much.
All in all, The Village is a well-written adaptation performed by competent actors, in a production that overall is pretty beige. It struggles to become anything more.
The Village at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 6 October
Photo credit: Johan Persson