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Theatre Review: Chasing Hares is a mediocre story acted extraordinarily

The story is improbable but star Scott Karim can make just about any character seem convincing

Ayesha Dharker is a scene-stealer in Chasing Hares. Photo: Isha Shah

Chasing Hares
Young Vic, London, until August 13

Some plays impress upon me not the genius of writers, but of actors. Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Chasing Hares is a case in point. The story it tells is a frankly improbable one of a hard and exploitative factory boss in West Bengal who doubles up as an actor and patron of theatre in his spare time.

Happily, Scott Karim plays the pivotal role of Devesh and this fellow can make just about any character seem convincing. I saw him more or less single-handedly bring a production of Oklahoma! at the Chichester Festival theatre alive a few years ago when he played the Persian peddler Ali. A few years later, he essayed a brutal kidnapper in The Invisible Hand at the Kiln in London with chilling intensity. I get the impression casting directors turn to
Karim when they have a character no other actor could reasonably be expected to shift: he’s what one might call the Domestos of the acting world.

This time around Karim has in Ayesha Dharker a scene-stealer every bit as adept playing opposite him as his long-suffering play-within-a-play leading lady Chellam. The two clearly loathe each other – she regards him as “poor quality meme” – and he’s keen to replace her with a younger model with
no acting experience who he happens to have spotted at the local strip joint.

The play works best when the sparks are flying between this unlikely pair as
they work with their lugubrious writer Prab (Irfan Shamji), but it all goes a bit awry when Bhattacharyya shifts the action to Devesh’s day job running a
factory that is profiting from child labour.

Somehow we are expected to believe the idealistic Prab is happy to make a few taka on the side working at Devesh’s factory as his PR man and he is contacted by a journalist from Reuters who would like him to get a photograph of one of the under-age workers illegally employed. It is on his
dilemma that much of the dramatic tension of the play is expected to turn.

Still, Milli Bhatia’s production, played out on Moi Tran’s great amphitheatre of a set, moves along at such a brisk pace that there is little chance to dwell on its improbabilities. I left the theatre thinking I’d seen something rather amazing, but it was only when I had a chance to think it through that I realised what I had just experienced had in fact been some extraordinary acting and some mediocre storytelling.

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