‘Mahabharata’: Ancient Indian Epic Sets Cast for U.K. Stage Production

A new stage adaptation of ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata” is set to make its U.K. premiere at London’s Barbican Theatre this fall.

The retelling of the revered text, which follows a devastating family feud and explores profound philosophical and spiritual ideas, is from Canada’s Why Not Theatre and had its world premiere at The Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada in March.

The production is presented in two parts and narrated by a storyteller (Miriam Fernandes). “Karma” (part 1), is the origin story of the rival Pandava and Kaurava clans. In “Dharma” (part 2), a great battle destroys the planet and the survivors are left behind to rebuild.

“Mahabharata” is performed by a company from across four continents, all from the South Asian diaspora. The cast includes U.K.-based performers Ajay Chhabra (“Rough Diamonds,” Netflix), Neil D’Souza (“How To Hold Your Breath,” Royal Court), Darren Kuppan (“Let The Right One In,” Manchester Royal Exchange), Goldy Notay (“Life of Pi,” U.K. tour) and Sakuntala Ramanee (“Life of Pi,” West End), who are joined by Canadian and other international performers Shawn Ahmed, Jay Emmanuel, Fernandes, Navtej Sandhu, Anaka Maharaj-Sandhu, Ellora Patnaik, Meher Pavri, Munish Sharma and Sukania Venugopal, and understudies Varun Guru, Karthik Kadam, Suma Nair, Ronica Sajnani and Ishan Sandhu.

The adaption is by Why Not Theatre’s founding artistic director Ravi Jain, who also directs, and co-artistic director Fernandes, using poetry from Carole Satyamurti’s “Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling.” The original concept was developed with Jenny Koons. Set design is by Lorenzo Savoini, costume design by Gillian Gallow, lighting design by Kevin Lamotte, projections by Hana S. Kim, sound design by John Gzowski and Suba Sankaran, original music by John Gzowski and Sankaran, with contributions from Dylan Bell, Gurtej Singh Hunjan, Zaheer-Abbas Janmohamed and Hasheel Lodhia, and choreography by Brandy Leary with contributions by Jay Emmanuel and Ellora Patnaik. Lead producers are Michelle Yagi and Kevin Matthew Wong, with production manager Crystal Lee.

There have been numerous film and TV adaptations of the “Mahabharata.” Theater doyen Peter Brook premiered a nine-hour play in 1985, which was followed by a five-hour film in 1989.

Fernandes said: “These stories have been passed from storyteller to audience for thousands of years and span the earth, traveling in the memories and imaginations of the South Asian diaspora. Though first composed in an ancient time, the themes of greed, revenge, ecocide and privilege feel acutely relevant in our globalized world.”

Jain added: “As a student in London, I watched the world masters dazzle audiences on the Barbican stage. 20 years later it’s a dream come true to share this complex work we’re so proud of at this truly special venue.”

Toni Racklin, head of theatre and dance at the Barbican, said: “Exploring the power of storytelling to understand where we’ve come from and to help us navigate our future, ‘Mahabharata’ invites us to connect with perspectives from across the world and inspire us to reimagine what we can achieve together.”

“Mahabharata” will be at the Barbican Oct. 1-7.

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