La Mort de Krishna, Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton Festival

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In 1985, Peter Brook directed what many think of as his greatest work - a nine-hour version of The Mahabharata, the 2,000-year-old poem of 100,000 verses that is the heart of Hinduism.

In 1985, Peter Brook directed what many think of as his greatest work - a nine-hour version of The Mahabharata, the 2,000-year-old poem of 100,000 verses that is the heart of Hinduism. La Mort de Krishna is a coda to that epic, recounting the aftermath of the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, two families who fight for domination of the world. The god Krishna, who has come to earth in human form (except for his two extra arms) refuses to fight for either side.

Brook uses one actor to tell this story, the superbly expressive Maurice Bénichou, a tubby, middle-aged man with long, grey hair who wears black pyjamas. Along with narrating, in French, the fantastic events that lead to the death of the god, he becomes each character in turn - wide-eyed maidens, bloodthirsty warriors, an elderly ascetic, a cannibal king. With deftness and economy he sketches these sometimes bizarre, sometimes homely personalities, using, for the most part, only a long scarf as a prop. It becomes headgear, loincloth and, at one comic point when Bénichou looks up at the electronic board that provides the English titles to read the next thing he has to mime, "his enormous member".

The set for La Mort de Krishna is, like that of The Mahabharata, a red carpet. There are a few cushions and oil lamps, two bronze screens and a head of the elephant god, Ganesh, before which Bénichou strews rose petals. The effect is one of artistic simplicity, though it's a bit too suggestive of the more expensive sort of Indian restaurant.

The story is majestic and bizarre, sometimes seductively so, sometimes in a way that, to the non-seduced, can seem just plain silly. When a woman gives birth to an iron club, Krishna announces that it must be turned to powder and scattered in the ocean (a labour that takes a team of strong men a week), but that it will be reborn in the earth and kill everyone. He might, one would have thought, have saved a lot of trouble. But on the whole, one is absorbed by this extraordinary mythical saga, which begins with Krishna surveying a battlefield of 18 million corpses, on which a blinded queen, searching for the bodies of her sons, curses the god, and says that a passing stranger will kill him.

The theme of sightlessness continues in the description of Krishna as "blinded by destiny". He reincarnates a hermit as a handsome youth who goes in search of the celestial earrings, first to the palace of an ogre and then to the kingdom beneath the earth, where the snakes "join hands" as they approach him. I can't say that I was greatly enlightened by all this, but I was certainly entertained, and I was interested to hear that mortals can address the gods in the familiar " tu" form, rather than the respectful " vous". Or is that just French ones?

Comments