Writer: Ivantiy Novak
The shameful story of the British massacre of peaceful Indian protesters at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar in 1919 is one that deserves to be retold. Fearing a mutiny as a result of growing civil unrest, Anglo-Indian Brigadier-General Dyer instigated marshal law. When an estimated 20,000 protesters gathered in the garden of Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer’s troops followed his orders to block the only exit of the garden and, without warning, open fire on them.
Samaadhi, a piece created and performed by Ivantiy Novak and Mohit Mathur, is a work in progress. The pair have ambitious ideas, aiming to use poetry, physical theatre, dance, clowning and archive records to address the enduring issues raised by the massacre. There is evident chemistry between the two performers and they clearly feel passionately about the story or stories they want to tell. Unfortunately for the audience, these stories remain for the most part opaque.
The pair roll energetically round the stage or cling to one another, but the reason for the choreography is often hard to fathom. There is strange business with props, limited to a scarf, a bent walking stick and a battered wheelie suitcase which seems to symbolise something significant. They repeatedly mime both firing rifles and being shot. At times Novak effectively embodies the ramrod stiff Dyer. Less clear is whether Mathur represents a single, haunted survivor of the massacre or a range of other characters. His facial expressions and gestures are undifferentiated, expressing only a narrow range of intense emotions. Greater nuance would bring clarity to his role.
The piece uses a considerable amount of spoken word – the work of Novak. It is oddly portentous, shifting uncomfortably in register between empty modern idiom (something described as ‘cute’ ) and hopeless archaisms (‘Speakest thou an apology?’ one asks the other at some stage). Thus words frequently misfire and Novak’s fondness for rhyme brings is all perilously close to pantomime couplets. There is an incomprensible section in which Mathur lengthily addresses a white wolf.
The programme notes ask ‘Why Samaadhi?’ but the term itself remains unexplained.
Samaadhi stands badly in need of a director who can help these young creatives communicate successfully to an audience.
Runs until 5 February 2022