Three Sat Under the Banyan Tree ★★ (Polka Theatre, 6 October 2018)

Polka's co-production with Tara Arts is the first UK stage adaptation of The Panchatantra, India's Aesop's Fables. The concept of the production is wonderful, but unfortunately they miss the magic of the tales as they get caught up in lengthy dialogue and confusing framing devices.

The narrative follows three children who are stranded in the woods after their father has possibly been killed by soldiers, and their father has told them to read the Panchatantra to 'learn something'. This is all explained in a very whiny shouting match between the children in the first few minutes, and only serves to over complicate the story, with brief interludes into their arguments, arguing whether to read the book or not. These interludes also contain very awkward panto-esque dialogue with the audience which feels like a last ditch attempt to draw the children in.

The tales themselves then come to life, following 'The Crow', 'The Mongoose', and 'The Tiger' to teach us valuable life lessons. Sadly however, these lessons are incredibly unclear. They do get some things right, as the animals have some beautiful masks with lovely puppetry, and the characterisation of the first two lead animals is very sweet and engaging for the children. Unfortunately the aesthetic is not enough, as the tales are explained in very lengthy dialogue, during which many of the children in the audience lose focus. Even when the purpose of the fables is explained, the summaries are still far too complicated for its ages range (7+) and the meaning becomes lost - we aren't entirely sure what we are meant to learn, which surely defies the whole point of the production. Although the children leave the theatre with some pretty images in their mind, we all leave with far more questions then answers.


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