Review: Gimme Shelter (Why Not Theatre/ Panamania)

Gimme Shelter is a one man play by Ravi Jain as part of Panamania

Toronto PANAMANIA play blends climate change concerns with Sankrit epic

Making its debut at PANAMANIA – the 35-day arts and culture festival that’s part of the 2015 Pan Am Games – Gimme Shelter asks us to think beyond our immediate surroundings. It beckons us to consider what it means to be a global citizen, and also the collective responsibility we all bear as members of the human race.

This visually compelling work of theatre shows us that more so than ever before, the actions taken by one country, one city or even one individual are able to have a real and immediate impact on people living half a world away.

First and foremost, this one-actor play is visually breathtaking. Making full use of his intimate stage space, playwright and performer Ravi Jain has created a multimedia work that wonderfully combines light, vivid pantomime and seamless narration to bring to life his message. I was honestly impressed with the calibre of this piece’s production values, minimalist as they may be, as well as Jain’s compelling performance.

In his brief introduction at the start of the performance, Jain describes how his love from the narrative craft was passed down to him from his great-grandfather, a marvellous storyteller in his own right who would larger than life tales to teach even the simplest of lessons. For this piece, Jain explains that he drew heavy inspiration from the ancient Sanskrit epic, The Mahabharata, in order to weave his tale.

Duryodhana and Arjuna are cousins. During their youth, both boys would often practice their archery, in the hopes of becoming master marksmen. Years later, Duryodhana becomes king, and Arjuna the general of his army. As time passes, Arjuna earns himself great accolade as a great warrior – garnering the respect of the entire kingdom. Jealous of this, Duryodhana challenges his cousin to a rigged game of dice, and Arjuna loses his title, status and his possessions, while also being forced into exile. When war breaks out, Arjuna finds himself fleeing from his once beloved cousin, finding shelter out at sea with other exiles. Eventually, they make their way back to shore, only to be greeted by Duryodhana’s army.

Will they be welcomed with open arms or will they be violently cast aside?

Jain never actually provides a conclusion to his version of The Kurukshetra War, and instead uses this cliff-hanger as a prompt to further instil a sense of empathy and camaraderie amongst theatregoers. He does this by inviting members of the audience to find a stranger and look that person in the eyes and image what his or her perfect day would be.

While I often appreciate the opportunity to experience teachable moment, this sudden shift in gears between an epic tale and sudden audience participation made the ending feel like a bit of an afterthought. For the better part of the performance, Jain draws spectators into a beautifully written narrative, but just as you finally start to become emotionally invested in the characters, it abruptly comes to an end.

With a bit more stitching to tie together these two elements more cohesively  – and a stronger parallel between the tale of Duryodhana and Arjuna, and the plight of those who find themselves displaced by climate change – this play has real potential to leave a lasting impact on those who experience it.

Sure, Gimme Shelter doesn’t provide any substantive solutions or insights into the problem of global warming, but it does force you to look inward and reflect on how your lifestyle impacts the world around you.

Because change isn’t always the result of some grandiose sequence of events. Real change – lasting change – occurs when we conscientiously make the decision to change.


Photo of writer and performer Ravi Jain by David Leclerc.