- Claire Sawers
- 17 August 2018
Moving depiction of war and young doomed love
This piece of wordless musical theatre was created to mark the centenary of three things: the birth of Indian silent cinema, World War One commemorations and 'Usne Kaha Tha', a short story written by Chandradhar Shana Guleri.
Against a backdrop of very minimal silent movie subtitles to guide the story, and rare footage from the Imperial War Museum, a team of dancers act out a moving story of doomed love and young men sent to war.
It combines the Bollywood style of exaggerated emotion and traditional romance with some hard to swallow facts: 60,000 Indian soldiers died fighting for the British Army in the Great War, or the war that was supposed to end all wars. Sitting watching it in a functioning British Army drill hall, staffed by soldiers, with up-to-date diagrams of machine guns and posters about toxic substances on the way to the theatre adds a few extra layers of discomfort for the audience.
But little blame seems to be placed on the Empire, who actively recruited in India in the decades before war broke out. Instead the focus is a girl called Leela, and a man called Lehna Singh, who falls for her, but discovers she's married to his captain in the 77 Sikh Rifles.
Leela (danced by Vidha Patel, a Kathak dancer from Birmingham, who has performed with Richard Alston Dance Company in the past) uses traditional finger movements, undulating arms and bursts of spinning to tenderly convey her various states of coy embarrassment, desperate anguish and carefree, young love. A very expressive (without being overwrought) physical retelling of a tragic tale.
Army @ The Fringe, Summerhall, until 25 Aug (not 19, 20). £12 (£10).