Chasing Hares is balanced story that will transport you into the fairytale-like world of Bengali tales and culture. Whilst also shining a light upon the harsh reality of cut-throat capitalism, exploitation, and the need to fight for equal rights.

Ayesha Dharker in Chasing Hares at Young Vic (c) Isha Shah

Sonali Bhattacharyya’s new play takes us places – both far away and nearby. Chasing Hares explores the story of Amba (Saroja-Lily Ratnavel), a mother making a living delivering food for a large corporation. Her spirit to change the way she and her colleagues are unfairly treated by their employer opens up another story. Amba’s father, Prab (Irfan Shamji), a factory worker in 2000’s Calcutta, is struggling to make ends meet as his workplace, a local textile factory is in a lockdown, and nobody is getting paid. Due to an unexpected set of circumstances, Prab receives the opportunity to take on a managerial position in the factory – and uncovers practices that workplace owners have hidden from the outside world.

The audience receives an introduction to the concept of Jatra, a form of folk theatre popular in Bengali – this becomes a recurring theme in the show. Jatra is performed outdoors, in the round, and usually showcases the Hindu epics like Mahabharata. In Chasing Hares, Jatra becomes a web connecting all of the play’s elements. It’s a way to remember how things were, but also a way to create hope and courage for the future.

The play’s script provides a flawless story balance. There’s witty humour and sarcastic comments during the Jatra rehearsals, the energetic language of the dispute between Prab and his wife, all crowned with thoughts on a deep, complex topic of child labour just a couple of seconds later.

Ayesha Dharker in Chasing Hares at Young Vic (c) Isha Shah

Bhattacharyya paints a tough choice: would you choose your own well-being or the welfare of the community? Would you stay where you are or take a risk to help future generations, even if it means paying the ultimate price?

The story, especially in the first Act, progresses slowly, until one specific moment. There is one second in which most of the audience gasps for air, and you could have heard a pin drop. It was not because it’s scary, but because the play built the tension so delicately that nobody knew what was coming. That’s when the story started to move faster, and the emotional baggage became heavier and heavier until the end of Act 2.

The play is performed by a small cast of 5. The standout for me was Scott Karim, who performed as Devesh, the picture-perfect villain. The son of a factory owner who is a “typical capitalist” that has to be in the spotlight, both on stage and in life. It’s almost too easy to dislike him, as he is such an obvious “baddie.” A bit of a back story or a moment showcasing his human feelings would add a new layer to this otherwise exceptionally well portrayed but one-dimensional character. Karim had the audience in the palm of his hand during his first scene on the stage. He created so much energy I felt as though I was in a rock concert.

Prab (Irfan Shamji) and his wife Kajol (Zainab Hasan) are presented to us in a much more romantic manner. They are simple people who have come from nothing and have an undemanding wish to provide a promising future for their daughter. Genuine sparks start to fly once Prab meets Chellam (Ayesha Dharker) – the two actors show real chemistry on stage whilst in a creative flow together.

The show is tastefully accompanied by traditional Indian drums, mostly playing between scenes and never disrupting the dialogues. The set design by Moi Tran compliments the story, as it has two sides. An “ordinary” set with some chairs, a ceiling fan, and walls, and the colourful world which uses video design by Akhila Krishnan projected onto the walls whenever we venture into the world of Bengali tales and Prab’s stories. Much is left to the audience’s imagination, which works incredibly well in this play.

Chasing Hares is described by Bhattacharyya as a “love letter to organisers, activists, and dreamers.” But it’s something much more – it’s also a wakeup call for the audience. It’s a reminder not only of the problems faced globally but also the labour issues many face in the UK today. It is an empowering folk tale that will leave you wishing to explore Bengali culture more. Chasing Hares is a brilliant piece of theatre that’s very much needed in 2022.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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