Theatre Review - Chasing Hares

SONALI Bhattacharyya’s searing new play explores child labour and the exploitation of workers in West Bengal and makes the link with the nefarious spread of the gig economy closer to home.

Chasing Hares is mainly set in 2000s Kolkata. Prab (Irfan Shamji) is a machinist at the Khub Bhalo garment factory but a downswing in the economy means the workers are deprived of regular hours. Prab and his wife Kajol (Zainab Hasan) have a baby girl and are desperate to make ends meet.

Prab finds himself embroiled with the owner’s son, Devesh (Scott Karim), when he visits his theatre troupe.

They perform “jatra”, traditional Bengali folk theatre, in the factory. Prab is delighted to be asked to write a play for Devesh’s partner Chellam (Ayesha Dharker). He jumps at the opportunity to critique their work conditions through allegorical fable.

Dev shrewdly makes him a manager in the factory, which results in a new apartment and improved living standards.

But it’s not long before Prab has to decide where his loyalties really lie.

The play examines the power of storytelling and how it can effect change. Prab feeds his baby daughter stories and realises he can wield his pen to tell the truth and agitate for better conditions. After an horrific accident involving a minor, a journalist seeks Prab’s help in exposing child labour in the factory.

By crossing this line, Prab endangers his own life. Twenty years later, the gig economy has spready globally.

Chasing Hares is framed by the experience of Prab’s daughter Amba (Saroja-Lily Ratnavel), who lives in the UK. She has a baby of her own and works irregular hours for a food delivery company.

The opening of Milli Bhatia’s production is slow and it takes time to pick up pace, but Chasing Hares is well plotted and, as a drama about workers’ rights, protests and free expression, it is timely.

Akhila Krishnan’s video projections are evocative and the devastating conclusion reminds us of the dangers of fighting injustice with words.

Until August 13