May 2nd 2012 at Central Bar, Newcastle
Part of the Festival of Belonging Fringe Programme
“From…Mumbai to London’s East End via Manhattan…” so said the blurb about last night’s event. I’m betting that poet and performer Siddhartha Bose wasn’t expecting to complete the marketing with “…and ending in a performance upstairs in The Central Bar, Gateshead”.
Presented as part of the Festival of Belonging (most main events kick off tomorrow and run over the weekend in conjunction with the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts), this was part of the Trashed Organ Fringe Programme. Trashed Organ brings together poets, musicians and visual artists, puts them in slightly unconventional surroundings and watch the creativity flow.
So, here we were, in the upstairs of a bar, the floor space cleared and backed by a white curtain onto which visions of various cities and their associated sounds were projected. The simple set was engaging and set up the stage cleverly for Bose’s initial scene.
The sound stops and we witness the main character Kalagora visiting America for the first time, his first taste the hostile and unrelenting border control. Bose is an engaging performer and communicates the mannerisms of himself (seen as Kalagora) – an unsure youth travelling for the first time from his native India into a sprawling new world – and the border control with dexterity and humour. It’s a great opener and Bose’s rich use of language and physical performance reaches out to the audience: this not just a poetry reading.
Rewind to Mumbai and the backdrop comes alive with colour and the air filled with sound. The contrast is exquisite though somewhat overwhelming and I almost covered my ears to block out the shouting and traffic noise.
Cut to Manhattan on Millennium eve and Kalagora, while now illegally extending his stay in the States and virtually homeless, described his time there with great excitement and an infectious joy. Descriptions of the dark underbelly of the city abound and we see life in New York through a curtain of intoxication.
Kalagora’s experience of moving to Britain was presented very differently, his words read in a cut glass accent through the audio with Bose speaking over and with them emphasizing his new identity in the UK.
Kalagora was an unexpected journey for me, I found the visual elements worked well (both the screen and the physical performance), and the sounds lifted the performance while never overtaking Bose himself. All that was missing was the smell of his cigarette smoke.
Three cities: three experiences: one man – Kalagora really brings to the fore questions of identity and belonging.
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