STAGE REVIEW: Phantasmagoria @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (10.10.23) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Kali Theatre in Phantasmagoria, image by Nicola Young

When experienced politician Bina (Tania Rodrigues) meets young activist Mehrosh (Hussina Raja), there’s sure to be tension in the air. Especially when the two have an hour to kill/get to know one another better before their secret debate in a remote country house in the middle of a forest. The set reflects the vibe: a serene garden room with wicker chairs transforms into a place of shadowy figures, terrifying noises and unpredictable behaviour. The evocative music is always there as a backdrop, effectively bringing a sense of place: of somewhere, sometime in India…

This debate in writer Deepika Arwind’s Phantasmagoria promises much. An opportunity to show how bridges can be built, how differences can be aired in a context of mutual respect, how hearts and minds can be changed. The journalist Jai, played by Antony Bunsee has high hopes, not only for a media success that will aid his career, but also for a genuine desire to see these two women, each of whom he has huge respect and affection for, put aside their differences and find common ground.

In the course of the dialogue, the assured demeanour of the older woman works to erode any confidence of youth, as she knows exactly what buttons to press to provoke suspicion, mistrust, paranoia and fear. The assistant Scherezade, played by Ulrika Krishnamurti, knows all about fear too – the trying too hard to please for fear of being let go, the desire to be accepted without being paraded as a victim plucked from her fate by a benevolent saviour. She brings a heightened nervous energy from the moment she enters the room that keeps the audience on edge throughout. And then there’s the caged leopard, the symbol of wounded vulnerability, of being trapped by circumstance. Those in power will always wield power. We looked for a glimmer of hope that the idealism and fervour of the young could conquer the status quo, but there was a sense of wounded defeat as the lights dimmed.

Deepika Arwind is not terribly hopeful about the world right now. That much is clear. But maybe it is only ‘in first contouring the dismay she feels’, ‘we can start to think of what the path out of the darkness looks like.’ Maybe the debate itself will look all together different to the preceding dialogue. That’s for the audience to imagine with renewed hope.

Phantasmagoria runs at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Thursday 12th October.

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