On a still springtime evening, there are few better things to do than to take a trip to the Brighton Open Air Theatre. Surrounded by floral fragrances and accompanied by a chorus of songbirds as the sun began to set, the centre of the amphitheatre was filled by a metal circus structure that resembled a giant’s playground.
Every movement was filled with astonishing grace
What followed was a combination of incredible circus tricks and hard-hitting storytelling. The skill and ability of the two Nepalese circus artists, Renu Gahlan Tamang and Aman Tamang, was unquestionable. Their core strength will certainly make you reconsider skipping your next gym class as they swung around the set, supported only by their own strength. The pair made complex feats look simple, and every movement was filled with astonishing grace. Using the hoop to glide through the sky, Renu looked as natural and at home as the birds that swooped around us. These extended acrobatic scenes were serene and meditative, leaving the whole audience captivated.
Although a few younger children were in attendance, the recommended age guidance for As A Tiger In The Jungle is 8+. Audience members of all ages were captivated by the stunning acrobatics. However, the spoken narrative was violent and dark. This abrupt contrast jarred; one moment we were told, almost casually, about terrible incidents of child abuse and murder, the next we were admiring Renu gracefully swinging from a hoop. The audience weren't sure if they should clap at the spectacle (as you would during a traditional circus) or watch in respectful silence (as at the theatre). The show’s main flaw is in not successfully marrying these two elements.
Emotion was drawn with broad strokes rather than depth, such as when Renu literally roars with anger and Aman angrily discards his circus costume. Sadly, it wasn’t made clear in the performance that much of the story was based on the actual lived experiences of Renu and Aman. Perhaps this was partly due to the fact they rarely speak for themselves. Having a separate narrator talk through their feelings and the events of their lives as if they weren’t there at all, added a noticeable distancing effect. It might have been better to let the grace of their performance speak for itself, or to include dialogue between the two leads in English or their native language; emotion doesn’t only have to come through words we understand.
The metaphor of the tiger was also confusing as, although it was threaded through the narrative, any deeper meaning was lost. One minute the tiger is representing the child traffickers, another time it is Renu’s pain and anger, and at one point it’s even an actual tiger. Did the tiger stand for anger and rage? To prey or be preyed upon? Was it even meant to be that meaningful at all? You could never really be sure.
As A Tiger In The Jungle has the potential to be an incredibly moving tribute to children trafficked into slavery, but unfortunately the way this important story has been presented held it back. Despite this, there is much to admire and the heartfelt dedication of the performers was never in doubt.