Kali Soho Theatre


Reviewer's Rating

The Crick Crack Club’s lineup of multi-talented performers dabble and delve deep into a wide range of oral, linguistic and musical, narrative traditions to present (offer, with the unmistakable, hospitable generosity of committed gift-givers) exuberant, joyous, often participatory and invariably magical storytelling events that linger in memory like self-contained yet refractive jewels of experience.

Kali is no exception. Emily Hennessey brings the malignant rakshasas, the alternately terrifying and contemptible devas, demiurges and demi-gods, the punctilious patriarchs and divine daughters to life with a fluidity and assurance delightful to behold. Costumed in intriguing, non-committal brocade – purple and gold, layered and stiff, but high-collared, peremptory of proportion, neat and almost utilitarian in design – she plays her body with an inventive, aware, and exuberant a sense of cosmic experiment. Her performance befits the subject: Kali, incarnation of the feminine creative, visionary, inspired, inspiring her devotees’ minds and bodies to extremities of lavish love and venomous violence, sexual and fecund and cataclysmic, encompasses all versions of the female principle as imagined by Hindu bardic theologians through the ages. Hennessey’s ingenuity is reinforced abundantly and complemented by Sheema Mukherjee’s virtuoso fusion of instruments, truly lovely singing voice, and contrivance of a cappella rhythmic reverberation (i.e. she claps instead of using drums or tabla). Indra’s arrogance, Raktabija’s villainy, Sati and Shiva’s incongruous but felicitous romance, and the eponymous devi’s fury dance across the stage, in literal and metaphorical concert.


One’s response to the performance per se is perturbed by the implications of the treatment Hennessey has chosen to give living myth. Indra is not Zeus; Parvati is not Isis. Raconteurs recounting self-immolation by a Hindu wife to prove her husband’s worth cannot (surely?) purport to do so unproblematically, as though the persistent tradition of ritual suicide by widows, socially facilitated even when technically voluntary, belonged to the ancient, alien past – did not signify and were not symptomatic of, the systemic suppression of women as well as any deviance from rigid, normative definitions of a specific masculinity. Even prevailing representations of Durga as maternal All (the corollary, symbolically concomitant sense of which is Nothing) synthesize distressing patterns for the treatment of embodied women: she is a cornucopia, and needless (in both senses of the word); most goddesses in the pantheon are her avatars, which translates to womanhood itself being un-individuated.

Hennessey’s interpretation of Kali does, however, draw attention to, foreground and call into question the monolith in any given mythosphere. If would-be contrary versions of Devi become godlets in their own, limited right, there is no call or scope for a contradictorily constituted, fully realized because genuinely impersonated Goddess. There is a great deal to be said for changeability, for inconstancy: we recognise them as manifestations and consequences of clamorous, capricious, incomprehensible desires akin to our own; the fickle god forces me to acknowledge another (as well as an Other) humanity; she populates a paradigm that makes me as well as my fellows more human. Hennessey’s Kali needs to pass and be seen through a kaleidoscope.