Until the Lions, Roundhouse, theatre review: Akram Khan's dream-like tale of identity and revenge

Khan’s production is less concerned with plot than with burning moments

Zo Anderson
Thursday 14 January 2016 12:43
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Ching-Ying Chien and Christine Joy Ritter in Akram Khan's Until the Lions at the Roundhouse
Ching-Ying Chien and Christine Joy Ritter in Akram Khan's Until the Lions at the Roundhouse

A woman lopes around the stage, moving like a monkey on hands and feet. A couple dance as if mesmerised, bodies following each other even when one tries to twist away. Until the Lions, the latest work from Akram Khan, is a dream-like tale of identity and revenge, piling up hypnotic images.

Based on poet Karthika Naïr’s retelling of the Indian epic the Mahabharata, it’s the story of a princess who is first abducted and then rejected. She is reborn and given male form, returning to kill her celibate abductor.

Khan’s production is less concerned with plot than with burning moments. In Tim Yip’s design, the circular stage looks like a giant tree stump. Musicians play from the sidelines, joining processions or hurling poles in battle scenes. Ching-Ying Chien’s princess dances with Khan, covering their faces as they sway in sync, both tempted and both appalled. Christine Joy Ritter moves with animalistic force, the princess’s id unleashed and forced into action.

Khan’s warrior remains the most readable figure: Chien and Ritter are gripping, but we’re given less sense of their inner lives. That changes in the final confrontation, when both women take up the same weapon, becoming a single, implacable force.

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