Thursday, 2 November 2000

Theft of Sita, Nov 2, 2000

 by Nigel Jamieson
at Malthouse until November 4, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This telling of the story of The Theft of Sita is distinctively Australian-Indonesian. It is told evocatively not only with Indonesian shadow puppets but with contemporary Indonesian images of environmental destruction, rebellion, mostly English dialogue with heaps of Aussie slang.

The narrative is a funny and moving portrayal of the Sanskrit epic, The Ramayana. Director, Nigel Jamieson, collaborated with composer, Paul Grabowsky, Director of Puppetry, Peter Wilson  and Dalang, (Indonesian chief puppeteer) I Made Sidia to create a rich visual and aural world.

The production's great strength is its successful parallel of the mythical story of King Rama's wife, Sita's abduction by the demon Rawanna with modern issues of ecology, power, wealth and urbanisation.

The beautiful Sita is stolen as she wanders the forest with her husband. She is kept caged in a sprawling city by Rawanna. Sita's kidnapping comes to represent the rape of the exotic landscape of Indonesia that is flooded for tourism, deforested for building and rid of native fauna for profit.

The form of the production is in the style of the Indonesian Wayang Kulit, or shadow puppetry. Jamieson uses the clown servants of King Rama, Twalen and Merdah, as the protagonists in the narrative.

This father and son duo go on a quest to rescue Sita and face forest fire, famine, wood-chipping, white water rafting and a surreal urban chaos.

The shadow puppets are innovative. Not only do we see traditional characters but there are shadow forest animals, musical instrument creatures playing rock songs, and huge electric pylons and buildings.

In addition, there is distressing film or photographic imagery of real riots and blasted landscapes in Indonesia  The images are thrown onto a small screen and then a full screen that covers the entire front of stage.

The musicians, puppeteers and actors and singers are secreted for most of the 95 minutes, at the rear of the stage .They create magical and disturbing images for us that are designed by Julian Crouch and lit by Damien Cooper

Not least of the elements is the spectacular musical composition by Grabowsky. He combines the sounds of Indonesian Gamelan music with melodic or cacophonous contemporary western music. The music is transporting.

Sita is challenging both theatrically and sociologically. It is also a hoot for the family. Kids loved it.

By Kate Herbert

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