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Wednesday, November 5, 2008


A brave take on an epic work. (Review by Clinton Marius)

The Mahābhārata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, and forms an important part of Hindu mythology.

With more than 74,000 verses, it is one of the longest epic poems in the world. It is nearly ten times the size of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, roughly five times longer than Dante's Divine Comedy, and about four times the size of the Ramayana.

Against the backdrop of these staggering figures, it would seem an impossible task condensing the Mahābhārata into a script, but this is exactly what British director and writer, Peter Brook did. It first appeared as a nine-hour play, then as a six-hour TV mini-series, and finally as a three-hour video. I have seen this video, and was amazed how such a voluminous work could be covered in just 180 minutes.

And now it is packaged even tighter into an hour long production, presented by the Durban University of Technology’s Television, Drama and Production Studies Department.

Forty or so students use dance and narrative to take us through the epic tale, and it is a daunting task. Director Verne Rowin Munsamy has cleverly allocated roles to the entire cast, and each student is given a chance to shine. Herein lies the rub, however, as a production, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. At times some of the performers were completely inaudible, or rushed or fumbled through their lines. Delivery and projection are key aspects of performing, and some attention needs to be paid to these weak spots.

What struck me the most about the play was the sense of humour and delight that was evident amongst the performers in staging this work. They were clearly having a good time, and this excitement rubbed off on the mostly student audience who applauded, sighed and shouted their approval. This approach to the work proved to be a double-edged sword though, because this is, after all, a sacred story, and at times I felt the respect it deserves was missing.

In an ensemble piece of this nature, it is difficult to single out outstanding performances, but mention must be made of Haseena Hans’s engaging Vyasa, Sabelo Ndlovu strong voice and good posture as Bhisma, a dramatic and focused Enathi Ntlokwana as the gazelle, strong performances by Nhlakanipo Manqele, Portia Chiliza and Senamile Zuma. Gcebule Mbili was excellent as Bhima, and I predict a great future for this actress. Also worth mentioning is Prya Chetty’s focused portrayal of Krishna, and her good dancing.

All in all, it was a brave move bringing such a vast work to the stage, and the director, choreographer Derosha Moodley, performers and the department itself deserve praise for their efforts.

It’s just a pity that a work that has been several weeks in rehearsal, and which deserves to grow and be seen by a wider audience, is only on for three nights.

The Mahabharata is a project with DUT drama students and runs nightly at 18h30 from November 3 to 5 at Courtyard Theatre, Mansfield Road, DUT campus. Secure parking at Gate No. 4 opposite the Courtyard Theatre. Tickets R15 booked through Ronicka Sirputh on 031 373 2194. – Clinton Marius