Fringe Reviews: City of Lions and Gods and Ragulabuggla

Two excellent productions got Day One of Fringe Festival Praha 2013 off to a very good start

Sometimes you get lucky - two excellent and polished productions (both involving India) got Day One of Fringe Festival Praha 2013 off to a very good start. City of Lions and Gods and Ragulabuggla should become Fringe faves and will likely both be shortlisted for Fringe Awards.

City of Lions and Gods *****

Set against the backdrop of the crumbling British Raj and clash of cultures between Muslims and Hindus in Northern India that would result in the creation of Pakistan,  Saiah Arts International’s City of Lions and Gods focuses on the personal drama of Mame, a young girl who at thirteen is married to Khan, a man 17 years her elder. This sweeping tale of the birth of a nation and the rebirth of a woman’s spirit packs a lot of punch into the small playing space at Malestranská Beseda.

The story, devised by Marium Khalid, Phillip Justman, Henry Scott and Becca Porter, is delivered by a combination of strikingly effective dance-like movement, and song (including haunting original compositions by Piers Caldwell), as well as spoken text in English and Urdu. Often the most difficult thing to pull off in a Fringe setting is the execution of a one act play, aided by the sensitive and nuanced direction of Marium Khalid (who also plays Mame - “a goddess in a city of lions”), the production benefits from the uniformly excellent acting from the cast of four. Henry Scott’s Khan is a finely crafted performance etched with care and detail. As Groom, the Heathcliff of the story, Phillip Justman’s hawkish pursuit of Muslim independence and Mame provides the fire needed to propel the action forward.

One of the best scenes is the hunting sequence between Khan and Groom where they stalk a stag, represented by Groom’s unhappy wife and the sister of Mame: Miri (Caitlin Reeves in a very good performance). With her crystal clear voice and precise acting choices, Khalid’s Mame is totally believable as a thirteen year-old who develops over the course of the play’s twenty-four year span into a strong and powerful force that would help shape a nation’s identity.

The production is filled with many smart and subtle touches (notice the way Mame and Groom briefly touch hands as they pass by each other off stage during one of the show’s many tightly choreographed transitions). Perhaps it is inevitable that the personal drama of forbidden love is not as interesting as the political and religious drama unfolding, but only once for about two minutes does the story slip into standard soap opera fare. The rest of the time the audience is captivated by the terrific execution and artful presentation.

City of Lions and Gods
is a show that stays with you long after its final moments, should be a candidate for a Fringe Award and will no doubt prove to be one of the highlights of Fringe Festival Praha 2013.

Ragulabuggla ****1/2

Winner of the Stockholm Fringe Fest 2012 Outstanding Artist/Act, Ragulabuggla: a tale about an environmental refugee, provides a tour-de-force performance from the very funny and skilled Rupesh Tillu (likely a candidate for the Outstanding Performer Award).

Wryly directed by Bjorn Dahlman, the production (a Swedish/Indian collaboration from Theatreact and Bananteatern), is the story of Mauri who, after his island is swept away into the Pacific Ocean travels the world looking for a new home.  Featuring video and live music (from the appealing Emma Gilljam), the evening, succeeds because of the charm and easy playing style of Tillu.

Often when comics make the audience part of the action, it is done in a way that is slightly humiliating for whoever is being singled out for attention. Lesser clowns usually have a way of letting you know they are smarter than you and the comedy is often at the expense of the audience member who would probably wish to be left alone. A gifted clown, with a broad expansive face and expressive eyes (and a terrific high kick), Tillu assuredly involves the audience in a way that always puts them at ease, making them feel comfortable enough to actively engage with the action.

What he is so good at is generously sharing his stage and his joke. There is selflessness about the performance that is endearing and totally in spirit with the character of Mauri as he searches for a home. Highlights include song and dance numbers, some business with a floatation device, an extended torture scene and a boxing match featuring an unexpected guest.

I am not sure that Na Pradle is the right venue for the production – however the good news is that the large venue should accommodate the large numbers of audience members who owe it to themselves to see Rugulabuggla.


City of Lions and Gods PTV event page:

Ragulabuggla PTV event page:

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