Friday night at the end of another particularly damp week of the Easter holidays. Muddy fun had been had by all, but now for some me-time as I headed to Clapham Old Town to see Gauhar Jaan - The Datia Incident at The Omnibus Theatre, a new production written by Tarun Jasani and produced by Mukul & Ghetto Tigers.
We had been promised a remarkable story of India’s first recording artist, one of scandal, intrigue and invention, and we weren’t disappointed. From the start we are caught up by the engaging performances and an unfolding story of the search for a seemingly elusive courtesan and singer, as famous for her voice as for her arrogance, with the aim of recording her for posterity on a state of the art invention.
Colourful, creative and captivating, we were transported to 1900s India where a Muharaja is royally entertained by visiting courtesans, including dancers beautifully choreographed by and featuring the award-winning Indian dance artist, Arunima Kumar. The costumes were stunning in their vibrancy, and the bells around ankles and the bubbles and scent from the shisha pipe took us into the palace alongside the players.
It’s a clever play interwoven with the ‘real time’ Fred Gaisberg arriving on a ship from London with the new and ground-breaking invention of the gramophone, to seek out one of India’s most celebrated singers, Gauhar Jaan. Her celebrity meant that any person with whom he spoke, whether the man mopping the deck as they come into harbour or the slightly inebriated character in a Calcutta bar, all knew of her, her reputation and the infamous ‘Datia Incident’. But which version of the story is true?
It was a reminder of how the ability of people to tell a tale, to spin a yarn and spread the news was as good over 100 years ago as it is in the 21st century with social media at our finger tips. Fake news is not a new phenomenon; it’s been alive as long as human beings have been talking to each other. And the play also deals with a woman who only ever wanted to control her own destiny, a fascinating story brought to life through music, dance and a good dose of colourful drama. Go see it and you’ll feel transported to another time and place, if only for a while.
Tue 10 – Sun 29 Apr | 7.30pm, 4pm Sundays| £15 | £12 concessions. Recommended for 15 years and over https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/event/g ... 018-04-10/
To accompany the play an exhibition, supported by EMI Archive Trust and The British Library, is running throughout April in the café-bar space.