The Young Vic have had an amazing yet with recent productions of The Collaboration and Oklahoma winning rave reviews and going on to have a future life (in both cases if rumours are to be believed). So the bar has been set very high for their latest show, Chasing Hares - a brand new play by award-winning playwright Sonali Bhattacharyya.
Chasing Hares is focused on Prab who finds himself at odds with his beliefs when a new opportunity comes his way. As he finds himself now being able to provide for his family, he faces a dilemma as he has to decide whether to speak up on the injustices he witnesses. Bookended with scenes of his adult daughter in London in the future, the rest of the show takes place in Kolkata in the 2000s.
The cast are led by Irfan Shami, who is wonderfully full of life as the sweet natured Prab. As the plot progressed, the character develops and Irfan effortlessly takes us on that journey in a charismatic performance. Zainab Hasan plays Kajol, his long suffering wife who is brilliant in her no-nonsense approach, providing the perfect counterpart to him in their scenes together. Though her stage time is fairly limited, Saroja-Lily Ratnavel is wonderful as their adult daughter Amba, introducing the audience to the key themes that will play a huge part throughout the play.
Scott Karim excels as the unethical Devesh, relishing in the chance to play a character the audience love to hate. The standout performance in the whole play goes to Ayesha Dharker who is truly mesmerising as Chellam, a tired performer desperate to try something new. Her dry and clipped delivery of lines makes her fascinating to watch, especially given the hurt that lies beneath the humour.
The writing by Sonali Bhattacharyya is incredibly layered. Featuring a great deal of colourful language, it is often wickedly funny, though this reveals itself to be deceptive as it hides the true narrative which promises a darker and far more sombre theme approaching. The way Sonali manages to mix comedy with thought-provoking and deeply affecting dialogue is a testament to her genius as a writer.
Chasing Hares features fantastic direction from Milli Bhatia, elevated by a beautifully sparse looking stage designed by Moi Tran. Like the content of the show, this is deceptive in itself as it reveals itself to be far more intricate in scale, bursting to life with a truly glorious use of video design from Akhila Krishnan. Gorgeous lighting design from Jai Morjaria is used to great effect, particularly in a stunning moment involving shadows and Prabs hand.
Storytelling is used as a big plot point in Chasing Hares with both Prab and Amba using stories to convey events. One moment discusses taking liberties with the timeline, which is reflected in some of the references used in the supposed 2000s setting. I can only assume this was deliberate, given the inclusion of that line. The use of storytelling and the creative visuals that went alongside evoked memories of A Monster Calls which played at the Old Vic a few years ago. Like that show, this too brilliantly used stories to beautiful effect.
The themes can be heavy-handed at times, but that is the beauty of this show. While it is an enjoyable and initially feelgood piece of theatre, Chasing Hares leaved you with food for thought after you’ve left the theatre, which is something the best shows manage to do. The idea of workers rights feels incredibly timely, given we are facing a summer of strikes. The sense of ambition and ignoring your morals is handled with sensitivity in a natural way that allows us to sympathise with the character and perhaps ask the question what we would do in the same situation.
Ultimately, Chasing Hares is a fascinating piece of theatre. Brilliantly written, phenomenally acted and wonderfully staged, this is yet another masterpiece from The Young Vic. If theatre at its best can make you think AND feel, Chasing Hares is a prime example of just how powerful great theatre can be.
Chasing Hares plays at the Young Vic until August 13th. Tickets from youngvic.org
Photos by Isha Shah and Akhila Krishnan