Rasa Productions’s Whose Sari Now @ West Yorkshire Playhouse
It’s not every Friday you see large groups of women in saris and salwar kameez in the audience at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Whether the theatre or Rasa Productions were responsible for getting the word out to them, it’s good to watch a show alongside an audience with whom the work clearly resonates deeply and culturally, and one that you know from its title is going to engage with women, South Asian women in particular. This is true, and a good thing, because the stages in our regional theatres present very little work that speaks of and to women of South Asian heritages. But Whose Sari Now? is by no means niche to its cultural heritage.
It is a moving and eclectic performance piece that speaks to us all, through the different characters, all remarkably presented by Rani Moorthy. At a time when the world is in turmoil and conflict, the stories of these characters remind us of our common ground as humans. Whilst tiny subtleties of cultural reference points might be lost on the white and/ or male members of the audience, the stories presented are universal stories of life, love, family, home, identity.
Clever design complements Moorthy’s assured performance—the colour of the saris used is beautifully, six yards of cloth draped over washing lines, crumpled into a shopping trolley, or heaped into a pile to form the set. Saris are variously used as a shadow screen, as characters in the stories, as a prop to wrap a volunteer from the audience, and to represent the blood of childbirth. Videography adds depth and texture, but it is Moorthy’s performance that drives the piece.
Moorthy shambles on with her shopping trolley at the opening of the piece, a bare, black stage with just a few washing airers and lines, and a heap of cloth to one side. As she unfurls and hangs up bright coloured saris from her trolley so her story unfolds with gentle humour, and the in-your-face attitude of a stand up comedian. This first character is an old Asian woman who’s saris tell her life story—and she shares with us how she cannot let go of them, for the memories they hold.
Moorthy is no less engaging in her presentation of the other characters and stories, though they are very different from the first—the young mother giving birth in a war zone, the transgender man exploring the meaning of how people perform and dress their gender, the historian confronting racism while curating and connecting saris with mythology. Moorthy finishes the show with a return to the first character, and we see how she can finally let go of her saris in the final hours of her life.
‘The clothes don’t make the man’ is an English proverb, and that may be so. But this show is an entertaining and thought-provoking exploration of how the way we dress and present ourselves resonates throughout our lives.
Reviewed by Jenny Wilson at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. Tours to Theatre Royal Stratford East Thursday 24th November — Saturday 17th December.