Review: The Mahabharata Becomes A Series Of Parables For Battlefield

Battlefield, Young Vic Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Savannah Whaley Last edited 24 months ago
Review: The Mahabharata Becomes A Series Of Parables For Battlefield Battlefield, Young Vic Theatre 3
Carole Karemera, Sean O'Callaghan and Jared McNeill in Battlefield at the Young Vic. © Simon Annand

Battlefield draws on the Indian epic The Mahabharata, a series of stories about a great war which tears apart the Bharata family. This curious little production asks big questions: what is justice? Why do we seek it? Why do humans destroy each other?  

Theatre giant Peter Brook’s famous nine-hour film version of the Mahabharata from the 1980s is pared down in this Young Vic production to a sparse series of fables and questions. The four performers, Carole Karemera, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba and Sean O’Callaghan, form an ensemble who move fluidly between different characters, padding barefoot on a burnt orange stage and using striking pieces of coloured fabric to signal role changes.

McNeill as Yudishitira questions the motives and reasons behind a war which has killed millions. Acting out a series of parables, the cast become worms, snakes and birds who tell stories that go some way to answering Yudishitira’s questions — although the answers tend to lead to even greater unknowns.

The only musical accompaniment is a drum played by Toshi Tsuchitori, who sits at the edge of the stage, dictating the rhythm of the play and building tension at moments of crisis or discovery. The beat is hypnotic and lifts a production which at times falls flat. The simplicity of this show makes it, in turn, highly profound and just a bit thin. You have to let yourself be drawn into the intriguing, abstracted world that the cast create — and try not to be put off by a script that occasionally verges on the parodic.

This is a play that slows the world down in order to better understand it. It feels ancient, a ceremonial storytelling that probes its audience subtly, and keeps you asking the questions it poses long after it's finished.   

Battlefield is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, SE1 8LZ, until 27 February. Tickets £10-£35. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 08 February 2016