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Kumkum Malhotra, review: A picturesque and intriguing performance

PUBLISHED: 10:57 14 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:12 15 May 2018

Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2018.  
Preti Taneja's award-winning novella 'Kumkum Malhotra'  set in New Delhi is bought to life in the grounds of Norwich Castle.

Picture: Nick Butcher

Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2018. Preti Taneja's award-winning novella 'Kumkum Malhotra' set in New Delhi is bought to life in the grounds of Norwich Castle. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Eve Stebbing enjoys an intriguing performance in front of Norwich Castle.

Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2018.  
Preti Taneja's award-winning novella 'Kumkum Malhotra'  set in New Delhi is bought to life in the grounds of Norwich Castle.

Picture: Nick ButcherNorfolk & Norwich Festival 2018. Preti Taneja's award-winning novella 'Kumkum Malhotra' set in New Delhi is bought to life in the grounds of Norwich Castle. Picture: Nick Butcher

Sam Ruddock of Norwich-based publishing company, Gatehouse Press, was leafing through piles of books, looking for a winner for the company’s New Fictions Competition.

He was beginning to lose hope, when he came to the final manuscript. Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja, an international human rights editor, writer and film maker.

He knew straight away that he had found what he was looking for. That was back in 2015, and three years on, the work has inspired a dramatic re-invention for the literary strand of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

The event, created by Story Machine Productions, bills itself as offering multiple art forms and a series of sensory encounters as a new way of experiencing Taneja’s novella.

Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2018.  
Preti Taneja's award-winning novella 'Kumkum Malhotra'  set in New Delhi is bought to life in the grounds of Norwich Castle.

Picture: Nick ButcherNorfolk & Norwich Festival 2018. Preti Taneja's award-winning novella 'Kumkum Malhotra' set in New Delhi is bought to life in the grounds of Norwich Castle. Picture: Nick Butcher

There are certainly some engaging responses to the text. With Seeta Patel providing the central focus as she mimes and dances her way through Kumkum’s sad journey.

But Taneja’s words are the star. Her writing is so good, it hardly needs anything else to keep our attention. Broadcast loudly through speakers in the Castle Grounds, it holds its audience in despite of wind and rain.

Kumkum’s story is a tragedy. Set in India, it depicts a woman slowly drifting out of her own life. She loses all social respect after an incident in which her sari unravels itself in the street. When her husband sends the children to live elsewhere, she fades. For its observation of Indian culture alone, the work is compelling.

But the noise, the dirt, the dust of New Delhi - the smells, the tastes and all that make India into such an overwhelming and exciting sensory experience, these remain unexplored in live performance. Given the play’s stated intent, that seems a missed opportunity.

There are some neat devices, however. Glasshouse Dance punctuates each shift in the action, deftly leading us from one scene to the next in what is a picturesque and intriguing promenade performance.

• The performance was co-commissioned and co-produced by Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Writers’ Centre Norwich in collaboration with Story Machine Productions. Choreography was by Glass House Dance.

• For your daily guide to Norfolk & Norwich Festival events click here

• For all the latest festival news and reviews click here

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