The Mad Woman of Chaillot

Paul Taylor: The Madwoman of our Town- Watermans Art Centre London

There’s nothing phoney about The Mad Woman of Our City which The Company has brought to the Watermans Art Centre as part of LIFT – or at least nothing that can be spotted by a Western eye and ear ignorant of Punjabi language and culture. Here the mad woman is not some warbling crone, but Ramanjit Kaur’s bewitchingly cranky child-woman who sweeps into the colourful, bustling bazaar of Act I born on a cycle rikshaw and shaking a hand bell. With her radiant smile and eyes that effortlessly register roguishness and anguish, she’s a creature who alternates elusively between the earthy and the other-wordly. Her antagonist is Ravindar Happy, a comically corrupt-looking prospector, who claims to have detected gold under the city. It would be accurate to call the show a play with song and wrist-twirling, skirt-swirling traditional dance, rather than a “musical”, since the numbers are predominately performed by the crowd, and the B V Karanth music, with its hypnotically insistent rhythms, ranging from an almost rap-like chorus to folk scenes, is mercifully unadulterated by pop. It’s uplifting precisely because there’s no straining for “uplift”; the mad girl’s triumph over the forces of corruption climax not in an assertive “I-am-what-I-am” personal anthem, nor a glutinous hymn to togetherness, but in a spectacular, earth-flinging ritual of cleansing. Its the collective, not the individual, which this show celebrates.

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