Southbank Centre, London
11 February 2023
Review and photo by Sanjeevini Dutta
Choogh, Choogh, presented by Beeja for the very young and the young at heart, taps into the universal romance of trains. From Thomas the Tank engine to the steam train experiences offered at many UK holiday locations, trains trigger emotions of longing for the unknown. However, at the outset of Choogh, Choogh, we know that we are in India and this is where we are embarking on a railway journey.
The scene opens at the railway station with ‘coolies’ bearing bags and baggage depositing the items on the luggage racks and under seats. The male dancer (Shyam Dattani) as the ‘coolie’ catches the eye with his expansive movements. There’s a lot of steam, indicated by the undulating hands of the dancer on stage right (Mira Salat) who also rotates on her own axis. The whistle blows and we are off – the large heavy wheels turn and gather momentum as the dancers use the perimeter of the stage as the railroad. It turns into a game as the engines compete with each other to go faster, overtaking each other and at one magic moment a dancer (Anusha Subramaniam) climbs on the back of another and we are in the playground!
The taka-tat rhythm of the turning wheels and clattering carriages is beautifully captured in the sound score (Vipul Sangoi and Dan Biddle) which is almost the fourth player of the piece. The found sounds are mixed with bols (rhythmic syllables), which gives great scope for the dancers’ footwork. Each sound is differentiated: a train entering a tunnel, or slowing or halting suddenly. The inclusion of popular English songs describing the train and flying kites is very welcome for a London audience.
Visually, three Rajasthani scarves/chunnies lend colour and movement as these are thrown as a ball towards the audience and unfurl. The scarves also serve as turbans and saris; as kites; as bedsheets.
Stations come and go with the cries of vendors selling chai-coffee and hot samosas – food is shared in the train compartment. Looking through the window of the carriage there are so many magical sights: the animals, temples, the forests with birds playing in the branches.
The three dancers, together with the sound track, plunge the audience into a reverie. A stream of images is evoked and we are on that rail journey. The thirty-minutes pass incredibly quickly, there is not a loose moment, the audience is hooked. Choogh Choogh is total theatre, immersive, a delight for the senses.