by LAUREN CODLING
THE first-ever stage adaptation of a collection of Indian fables is set to premiere in south London on Wednesday (3).
Shamser Sinha is the writer behind Three Sat Under the Banyan Tree, a production based on ancient Indian fables called The Panchatantra.
Combining three tales into one play, the story revolves around three orphans who read a magical book under a banyan tree. Using masks, music and dance, the stories tell tales
of a mongoose, a crow and a leopard.
British Indian playwright Sinha told Eastern Eye he hoped the play would open a dialogue which allowed children to question the stories and morals contained within them.
“These are not stories that say this is right and this is wrong,” Sinha explained.
“The world that children are growing up isn’t like that. They should question what it means to them and their lives and the paths they want to take in their lives.”
Having read the stories as a child himself in a variety of forms, including a comic book version, Sinha was drawn to the sense of the stories lying outside the moral framework he
knew. He questioned the characters’ decisions as well as what lessons to take from the story.
Sinha wrote the play – aimed at children over the age of seven – knowing his young audience would be at the stage where they were beginning to develop a sense of choice.
“As you get older, you realise that adults have limits and they don’t know everything. Maybe if you’re at that young age, you are beginning to have that understanding,” he
said. “Not that you should necessarily know what adults should do, but it is about questioning if what people say are right,” he said.
Besides his work as a writer, Sinha is also a lecturer in sociology and youth studies at the University of Sussex. In addition, he has worked with young asylum seekers and vulnerable teenagers in London.
However, his career as a playwright, he revealed, began when he watched a play for the first time almost eight years ago.
He stumbled across a production which focused on adolescents in Hackney, and the medium inspired Sinha to write and mix his own experiences of working with young people
together, he said.
By coincidence, he spotted an advert for a playwriting competition soon afterwards and decided to enter. His winning entry, Khadija is 18, was later shown at the Finborough Theatre in 2012.
“I liked the idea that you are witness to a play,” he mused. “You aren’t mediated
by a screen, it is happening around you and you are part of it.”
Although he has written several other stories in the past, including a novel entitled Migrant City which was published in July, he admits Three Sat Under the Banyan Tree is unlike anything he has ever worked on before.
“I’ve never written for this age group before,” he admitted.
Sinha also talked about the physicality of the play, explaining that it used music and dance to convey the narrative. The rhythm of his previous plays has been speech, he said, so this
was a very different medium.
The father-of-one also confirmed he would be taking his seven-year-old son to see the play.
“Yes, he’s coming to see it. I really hope he loves it.”
Three Sat Under the Banyan Tree will be shown at the Polka Theatre, London, until October 21.