When Haroun's mother leaves his father Rashid, the extraordinary storyteller known alternately as the Ocean of Notions or the Shah of Blah, Rashid hangs up his storytelling hat. Thus begins Haroun's journey to the distant land of Kahani, on a mission to restore his father's connection to the Story Tap, the source of his wonderful tales. Upon arriving in Kahani, however, Haroun discovers disaster is afoot as the evil Khattam-Shud is destroying the Sea of Stories. Can Haroun and the Pages of Gup win the battle?
Salman Rushdie's first post-fatwa novel, though essentially a children's story penned for his son, is more than mere fairytale - something the almost wholly adult audience seemed to fully appreciate. Indeed, the childish form of humour and the simplicity of language and structure only serve to highlight the serious themes being explored.
Betwixt the waves in the Ocean of the Sea of Stories - a great body of liquid tales represented by brightly coloured streams and characters like Iff the Water Gene and the giant mechanical bird, Butt the Hoopoe - the issue of free speech prevails. Rashid notes, once the Pages of Gup “had talked everything through so fully”, they remained united and supportive of one another, “a force with a common purpose”. Meanwhile, the ranks of Chup, under the rule of the evil Khattam-Shud, collapse under the strain of distrust caused by fear and lack of communication.
Tim Supple and David Tushingham's masterful adaptation is spot-on, allowing the performers to move effortlessly between performance and narration as necessary. Given the range of multi-coloured characters they re required to portray, the cast certainly rises to the occasion as well, demonstrating an understanding of understatement which is remarkable. It s a relief, too, to enjoy such a perfectly meshed ensemble. Difficult as it is to single out any actor, it s reassuring to report that the leads are in especially strong hands with Nitin Chandra Ganatra as Haroun and Nabil Shaban as Rashid. The Plentimaw Fishes (you know, plentimaw fish in the sea), (Sapna Hindocha and Sudna Bhuchar), are also wonderfully rendered, with umbrellas of vibrantly streaming ribbons and flippers.
After a slightly uncertain start, the play comes into its own under Supple s direction. Melly Still and Paule Constable s design and lighting also go a long way toward striking the right mood, with a particularly innovative use of light, saris and other materials to represent the Sea of Stories. The overall result is a delicately balanced evening of light-hearted entertainment and morality tale.