Hackney Empire, London – until 31 October 2021
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
VANARA – THE LEGEND
A story of love, loss, rivalry, and survival; Vanara The Legend is an ambitious telling of a tale as old as time.
Set in a mythical forest, Vanara tells the story of the moon worshipping Kogallisk tribe and their rivals, the moon following Pana people. The Kogallisk hold the secret to fire (both physical and metaphorical) and the Pana want it. Each tribe has an heir, Ayla played by Emily Bautista, and Mohr played by Jacob Fowler who inevitably meet and fall in love despite their families telling them that they cannot under any circumstance even look each other in the eye. This is all happening against a backdrop of an impending eternal dark winter foretold by oracle The Oroznah, played by Johnnie Fiori. The cast is great, with Kayleigh McKnight as Sindah belting out some memorable solos, and Cavin Cornwall as Crohm and Carole Stennett as Tonah heading up the Kogallisk tribe with powerful stage presence.
The staging of this epic tale is a forest made from scaffolding where the band sits high in the canopy overlooking the stage. A rotating portion of the set cleverly divides the two tribes and changes quickly to create a backdrop for the final tragedy and inevitable resolution. The soundtrack by Gianluca Cucchiara and Andrew James Whelan, coupled with the excellent choreography by Eleesha Drennan made for an enjoyable evening. The group choreography scenes were for me some of the most powerful moments, especially a nightmarish dream and a battle scene beautifully depicted in contemporary movement. Much of the singing is about either fire or love; lost love, new love, found love, unrequited love, fires that burn bright within, without, in your eyes etc. The entertainment factor allows you to forgive some of the over the top narrative that at one point an audience member sitting near us referred to as an “Eastenders moment”.
Vanara – The Legend is a bold new musical that tackles some tough topics and is highly enjoyable. It has big songs and a big heart and the cast is superb.