Review: Beneath the Banyan Tree (Theatre Direct)

Beneath the Banyan Tree

Bharatanatyam Dancing at the Wychwood Barns will Please All Ages

Theatre for a young audience has two important components: one, it must keep children engaged for its duration, and two, it must entertain the adults as well. Theatre Direct’s Beneath the Banyan Tree playing at the Artspace Wychwood Barns manages both.

With only an hour for its run time, the play packs a colourful, simple, and fun story about a young girl’s experiences after moving from India to Canada. Anjali, played by the charming and exuberant Natalia Gracious, frequently seeks comfort from the spirit of the Banyan Tree (Qasim Khan). Together they share the Panchatantra fables involving elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, mice, and peacocks.

Alongside Khan and Gracious are Rachelle Ganesh and Kyle Orzech. Orzech brings a wild and cheeky energy to the monkey and its alternate, the boy Mason. Meanwhile, Ganesh delivers a charismatic performance as she flips between several roles with ease.

The actors were having so much fun on stage it was hard not to get swept away. Cheryl Lalonde’s costume and set were striking, bringing focus and colour to the stage. The banyan tree stands watch over Anjali, the monkey swings from the tree’s branches. For the costumes, the animals are a clever combination of colour and props. Personally, my favorite was an elephant made of two red umbrellas.

Beneath the Banyan Tree embraces a kinetic energy. Dancing in the Bharatanatyam tradition is integral to the story, and there is never an opportunity missed to mix in complex movements within every scene. When the show wants you to take note, it slows to a stop, takes a breath, before once again jumping back into its high energy performance.

I felt like the kids in the audience, caught up in the story, engaged by the dancing, and caring about the story. As much as I tried to keep a distant eye on everyone else’s reaction, I couldn’t help but lose myself in the performances. An hour flies past but you never have the chance to miss it.


Photo of Kyle Orzech, Qasim Khan, Natalia Gracious, and Rachelle Ganesh by Naz Afsahi