Imogen Usherwood engages with the charming and colourful Sita, Squashed Mango Theatre Company’s Michaelmas show and the final DST production of term.
Since its reopening, the Assembly Rooms Theatre has seen a range of productions, but nothing quite like Squashed Mango Theatre Company’s Michaelmas offering, Sita. Directed by Layla Chowdhury, this devised show telling the Hindu story of the Ramayana is not completely polished, but nevertheless playful, ambitious and charming.
The most striking element is without doubt the set; the black Assembly Rooms stage has been painted white, and every item of furniture on it is white too, even the colourless Rubik’s Cube on the table. A similarly monochrome dinner party scene is set at the back of the stage, and every actor is wearing white from head to toe; the sheer attention to detail is eye-catching and, of course, promises us a burst of colour before the show is over. This comes in the form of colourful powder paints, which are thrown across the stage and on the actors’ white clothes – this ambitious creative decision is at times made underwhelming by the distance between the stage and audience, but nevertheless is impressive and unique.
The seven-strong cast work well as an ensemble, and bring this story to life with energy and enthusiasm. Dorottya Farkas, as the little girl, does not speak once but conveys all of her thoughts and feelings about the story she is telling through movement. Farkas intils a wonder in the action onstage when the audience risk losing interest; her childish fascination injects energy into the scenes. Amelia Melvin is an impressive Sita, occasionally slightly performative in her character but this feels more like a consequence of the dialogue, which wrestles between telling a story and offering a range of emotions to its characters. Ruth Louis stands out as villain Ravana, an ensemble of evil minions behind her, as a truly chilling enemy to our heroine.
Occasionally, it is hard to follow the gist of the action, or to stay interested in what seems like an exercise in traditional storytelling, but this is made up for with a range of creative and artistic elements. Items of tin foil or cardboard become important props or costumes, and the cast and crew have a lot of fun with small LED lights which illuminate different characters at different points. Farkas as the little girl frequently clicks a small light in her hand, which is confusing at first before it becomes established as a method of transition. These elements complicate the show in that it can be hard to follow, but create a visual spectacle in line with the colourful aesthetic of the production. The use of the Assembly Rooms’ impressive technical capacity is effective and slick, though sound less so, sometimes cutting off at the wrong moment – nevertheless, both contributed to the sensory display that Sita aims to create.
The show indulges in physical theatre throughout; this is most effective in its minutiae, small movements like going on tiptoes to signal the end of a scene, or the actions of Farkas as she shadows the characters she has conjured. Equally, there is a very impressive physical sequence towards the end involving the whole ensemble, though at other moments such sequences feel unnecessary and do not add much to the show. Nevertheless, they have been effectively devised and choreographed, and add to the visual nature of Sita.
In her Director’s Note, Chowdhury describes Sita as ‘a fun little show’, and I would agree – this is not a groundbreaking piece of critical theatre, nor does not set out to be. After the hour-long performance, audience members left the theatre smiling and saying ‘Aw, I really enjoyed that’: Sita is a clever, charming and visually appealing production which is not always pitch-perfect, but is nevertheless the uplifting, colourful end that we all need to a long term.
Sita is playing at the Assembly Rooms Theatre on 12th and 13th December at 7:30pm.
Photography by Matt Jaworski