Review: Tara’s Tales: The Panchatantra, Tara Arts

As we sit at home looking for something (anything!!) to quench our thirst for escape and adventure, we’re all spending an awful lot more time with stories. Tara Arts, award winning London-based multicultural theatre company, has offered its own colourful contribution to this lifeline stream of stories in the shape of Tara Tales. Three separate children’s stories performed from the ancient Indian collection of animal fables: The Panchatantra (as adapted by award-winning emerging writer, Carmen Guar). 

Released gradually over the course of lockdown, after the Tara Theatre had been forced to close its inviting doors, they are all still available to global audiences (age 6 and above) online. All performed and recorded at home by three separate actors, sound and video quality varies, so do come armed with headphones (especially for the magic music by James Hesford).

With so much positive cultural change exploding into global media and mindsets, these peaceful lockdown performances facilitate the timely importance of incorporating multicultural expression into the routines of wonder, curiosity and learning, that we offer both to ourselves and our children. Short, yet timeless, soothing, yet profound, Tara Tales is a generous offering of theatre and culture that would be a welcome addition to the family bedtime routine.

All too happy to return to child-like spirit and embrace the cosy story time format of these recorded performances, I tucked myself into bed, ready to begin this anthropomorphic journey of morals and musings through the animal kingdom with Medhavi Patel’s reading of The Monkey King and The Mangoes.

If watching with children, this performance provides the perfect five-a-day snack moment, as I can guarantee everyone will be craving some sort of juicy fruit half-way in; especially since Patel’s story, read from a visible script in her living-room, has perhaps the most lo-fi quality of all of the installments, so may be more difficult to hold attention to. Despite neglected visuals, Patel’s delivery is warm and dynamic, and her expressions and voices are genuinely quite hilarious. Relevant in current locked-down climates of stockpiling and highlighted inequality, lessons of human nature’s impatience, greed, arrogance, and how we can learn to live more harmoniously with the world around us feel especially valuable.

The next installment, The Donkey and the Rooster, sees its reader, Nitin Ganatra, use his home space a little more creatively. Ganatra compensates for poor sound quality by moving around and outside his house, prompting viewers to notice artwork, books, plants, or wind in every new domestic frame. Full of colour and just enough dark suspense, this fable teaches young viewers the value of celebrating our friends and their achievements, rather than becoming jealous and competitive. Depicting at once a camp northern Rooster and a slick cockney Donkey, Ganatra’s charming depiction of companionship reminds viewers to be appreciative and kind to those loved ones by whom we may feel a little suffocated or irritated at the moment!

Lastly, Dr. Sita Thomas’s rendition of The Loyal Mongoose presents by far the highest sound and video quality, lending this installment more of a TV, rather than at-home, feel. For this story I would definitely recommend youngsters have a soft toy handy, as Thomas’s excitable dotings on the eponymous character might leave even the sternest of grownups needing a cuddle. The fable reminds us, once again, to be loving and faithful to those annoying families around us, whilst teaching the importance of showing tolerance, trust and kindness towards those who look different to us and who might need our help; another particularly timely message. 

As Patel reads ‘humans are not quiet, their arrogance makes them loud’, it’s clear that if there was ever a moment to indulge in quiet reflection on our morals in the sacred space of the family home, it’s now, and Tara’s tender teachings of The Panchatantra are an excellent place to go.

For more information and to view, see the Tara Arts website.