Review by Eloise Sims
If you were looking for an easy, mindless, feel-good play to spend your weekend night watching, be warned – Dara definitely isn’t it. Prayas Theatre’s latest offering promises tragedy, despair, corruption, and just a hint of passion, as a family drama wrapped up in the story of an imperial Indian political coup. And good God, does it deliver.
The play, originally written by Shahid Naheem and later translated into English by Tanya Ronder in 2015, is set in the equally turbulent and opulent royal court of Mughal India in 1659. Dara centers on the tale of two brothers – the eponymous hero Dara, and the puritanical Aurangzeb. Both are heirs to their father’s throne, and Dara, adored by the people for his belief in religious freedom and poetic inclinations, seems the natural choice.
However, Dara proves itself to be far more complex than a heartwarming story of righteous rule. Instead, it can perhaps best be summarized as Game of Thrones meets Padmaavat – but a blend that goes beyond Thrones’ sheer “gore factor” in its thought-provoking debate over religious fundamentalism, an issue as deeply relevant to our time as it was in 17th century India.
In fact, perhaps Dara’s biggest strength is not only the fact it is a good story – but the fact that it is a good story well told. In case the audience was ever in danger of falling asleep in some of the lengthier court scenes (unlikely), violent battle sequences interspersed throughout the show constantly keeps every spectator on their toes. However, it’s the dreamy dance sequence in the second half that’s the one to watch out for.
Featuring stand-out performances from Prateek Vadgaonkar, and Rishabh Kapoor, all clad in stunning costumes designed by Padma Akula, it’s simply no surprise that Dara has had so many sold-out nights so far. Yet it’s the legendary Shah Jahan, played with a touch of gloriously comic delight by Mustaq Missouri, who steals the show with the story of his ignoble rise and fall.
All in all, Dara is a stunning performance of a drama that is as provocative as it is entertaining. In fact, it’s genuinely hard to believe while watching it that it is a piece put together by a community theatre group, due to its level of professionalism and dramatic ability. Prayas has not only risen to this challenge – it’s smashed it out of the park.
Where: Auckland Performing Arts Centre
When: 14 – 24 June 2018
Price: $30 – 35