Review: The Village, Theatre Royal Stratford East

A free adaptation of Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna by April de Angelis, Nadia Fall’s debut season as AD of Theatre Royal Stratford East starts off in fine style with The Village

“I’d rather spend my nights with a saag aloo”

A free adaptation of Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna by April de Angelis, Nadia Fall’s debut season as AD of Theatre Royal Stratford East starts off in fine style with The Village. Harking back to the past as Joan Littlewood directed it here in 1955, it also looks firmly to the future as a statement of intent about how things are going to be different out East.

The play has been resituated from Spain to northern India and set in the modern day. And in these Kavanaugh-plagued times, there’s something of a gut punch about the way how, even with fast-forwarding half a century, this kind of story can remain so horribly pertinent. What is does remind us though, is of the importance of resistance and the strength that can come from a community. 

Anya Chalotra’s genuinely excellent Jyoti is rather content with her lot in her village of Sahaspur – she’s got friends (a scene-stealingly good Rina Fatania), and a nice guy to flirt with (a most appealing Scott Karim). The arrival of a corrupt and misogynistic Inspector shatters the calm, but that in turn provokes an extraordinary response, that whilst it may not be a template of action to copy, could probably serve as inspiration for not settling with the status quo.

Topically, it works like a dream. The nationalistic fervour Art Malik’s Inspector foments and the politics of division, the culture of violence against women that is dragged out of the shadows, the thirst for revenge – it pulses with resonance. And as Jyoti is pushed to her breaking point, the way in which she becomes a totemic figure for the women of the village is an extraordinary thing to see.  

Theatrically, it doesn’t always quite hang together. The use of verse rarely feels truly integrated into this world, occasionally jarring, and it does feel rather baggy in places. But Fall’s direction always has a purpose, gathering momentum until it explodes in a riot of colour and passion and light and fury. Polly Bennett’s movement work comes into its own and Joanna Scotcher’s design bursts into life. As a taste of things to come, The Village is most exciting.  

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
The Village is booking at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 6th October

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