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YOU are unlikely to see a more openly militant play in a major London theatre this year than Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Chasing Hares — an imaginative juxtaposition of working conditions in modern-day Britain and early 21st-century Kolkata.
Apart from two clever bookending scenes in Leicester, the entirety of the play is set in West Bengal, where Prab (Irfan Shamji), the area’s best machinist and union activist, is feeling the pinch from unemployment, with a young daughter to feed.
A character based loosely on the author’s uncle, Prab and his wife Kajol (Zainab Hasan) are desperate for the local garment factory to open its gates again.
In a majestic, but slightly implausible turn of events, the audience is transported to a local Jatra (Bengali folk theatre) where Prab gets the opportunity to demonstrate his writing skills.
He is invited by the troupe’s leader, Devesh (Scott Karim), to write a show to placate the artistic frustrations of his partner and star actor Chellam (Ayesha Dharker).
Prab takes the radical decision to abandon the traditional Mahabharata form and forge a playful critique of the system driving his community into poverty.
But the devil-like Devesh, also the owner of the factory, has set him a trap and forces him to swallow his idealism by locking him in a golden cage consisting of a new apartment and a promotion.
When the dark realities of the factory reveal themselves, Prab has life-defining decisions to make. Those decisions do drag, in a protracted, mildly predictable second half which lacks the excitement of the first. But there’s a surprising last-minute twist.
There is a huge amount to learn from Bhattacharyya’s densely detailed text and it is delivered with deep sincerity, even when it gets a tad far-fetched.
Overtly agitational, brimming with life and totally of the moment, Chasing Hares is the sort of theatre we need much more of.
Runs until August 13 2022. Box office: 020 7922 2922, youngvic.org
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