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Tom Chivers On ... Kalagora

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Tom Chivers is the director of live literature production companyPenned in the Margins and is bringing their show Kalagora to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Combining poetry, theatre and video, Kalagora is a coming-of-age journey across three continents.

The dark wood floor of The Bell pub is covered with lines of dazzling orange sand. Psychedelic images of Mumbai and New York are thrown against three white banners hung precariously from a tent pole, as a man – part crazed hedonist, part naive traveller – flings himself across the room in a whirl of words.

“The noise of the city is panoramic! You close your eyes to feel its scope.”

Outside the blacked-out windows, the dregs of an East End street market are winding up... Sunday before Edinburgh, and we’re eight hours into the final tech rehearsal of Kalagora. We’ve come a long way: what was initially conceived as a ‘staged poetry show’ is now a fully-fledged theatrical production – with lights, sound design, film and a handful of props (sand, Rizla papers, a well-travelled suitcase). Written and performed by Siddhartha Bose, Kalagora is the story of a young man’s journey from the slums and skyscrapers of Mumbai (‘mindf**k megacity’) to London via a grotesque, drug-fuelled visit to Manhattan (‘island of drunks’). It’s a show about growing up, knowing yourself.. and about immigration, paranoia and passports.

When I first encountered Siddhartha Bose, in the stuffy basement of the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden, the explosive theatricality of his performance and the dense beauty of his language set him apart immediately from the mannered formulae of performance poetry. What Director Russell Bender and Associate Director Joy Mills have done is to transform his raw talent into a nuanced and highly physical performance. Sid initially approached this new training with trepidation, having not acted since a university production of Antigone in 2004. Both graduates of Ecole Jacques Lecoq, Joy and Russell have worked extensively on Sid’s movement, vocal technique and breathing, and in developing the character of Kalagora and his cast of cross-dressing hedonists, paranoid immigration officers and midget tobacconists.

It’s difficult to categorise Kalagora, but according to Sid “its heart is poetry, its soul theatre”. It’s part of a new breed of hybrid productions which combine the craft and intimacy of poetry with the power and range of theatre. Inua Ellams’ Fringe First-winning show The 14th Tale (which I co-commissioned for London Word Festival 2009) has been a reference point in developing Kalagoraa. Sid also cites poet and musician Anthony Joseph as a major influence. His ongoing work as playwright for Toronto’s WhyNotTheatre has also contributed to the dramatic textures of Kalagora. Poetry is usually a solo artform, so it’s both exciting and challenging to bring Sid’s work into a collaborative context. We have a fantastic creative team, open to experimentation but respectful of the beautiful, explosive text at the core of Kalagora.

“We walk silently, clumsily, all the way to the Bowery. The tinge of Chinatown fishstink hits us. We take Manhattan bridge, walk across. The city is a seas of stars, ours, immense, bleeding into the river.”

Kalagora runs at ZOO Roxy, 5-29 August (not 15 & 22) at 15.25.


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