The context of and background to this production are very important. It tells the story of Nepalese twins , a boy and a girl, who were trafficked to India to perform in traditional Indian circuses. Many other children have been so trafficked over the years. The abuse and ill-treatment they experienced , amounting to slavery, is truly horrific. In 2013, Ali Williams (founder of Nofitstate Circus in Wales) took a job as Creative Director of Circus Kathmandu. The young men and women in the circus were trafficking survivors many of whom had been rescued by the charity ChoraChori. She was inspired by their determination to use the circus skills they had learnt in a situation of extreme abuse for something positive, to make a difference. Williams contacted the eminent Norwegian circus director, Sverre Waage, to invite him to visit the circus in Kathmandu. And this was the beginning of an international collaboration to tell the story of some of the child survivors via a performance that fuses Asian and European story telling, mime, ceremony, music and circus skills – of which this show is the result.
The dramatic set was on display before the performance started – to display the gymnastic/circus skills there were ladders, cage – like structures to represent the children’s imprisonment, including one in the shape of a ball suspended high above the stage. Gradually, one became aware of three very still people also on stage, including one in the ball. The show began one of the actors struggling to escape from the ball . The theme of the struggle for freedom from incarceration and slavery was constant throughout the piece.
The story was told in part by words – mainly from the older of the survivors. The twins ( real survivors played by Renu Ghalan and Aman Tamang) also contributed some words from time to time, focussing on the effects of their trauma “inside”. But much of the story of their survival was shown through mime and through the incredible strength and beauty of their physical movements as they used the ladders , a suspended circular prop and the floor to demonstrate their stunning flexibility and skill. The image of these sequences still remain.
The Tiger of the title is the name given to the traffickers – clearly as dangerous and scary as any real tiger. The terrifying threat that the traffickers represent was powerfully shown through a ritualistic sequence with the tiger/trafficker portrayed as a fire burning underneath Renu and about to consume her at any moment. The visual impact of this sequence was much more powerful than any words could have been.
One difficulty with this production was that the older survivor was played by what appeared to be a white woman with a slight North American accent. Although she explained her role early on, visually and emotionally her presence somewhat broke the intense unity of experience of the twins. Catriona James is in fact of mixed Welsh/Malaysian/Canadian heritage so her casting perhaps raises some of the difficult issues about casting decisions. In June her role will be taken by Loan TP Hoang who is of Vietnamese/Norwegian heritage.
As a Tiger in the Jungle is a very powerful piece of drama raising awareness of yet another example of the world-wide trafficking of children. To see Renu and Aman as free people use their bodies in such demonstrations of strength and skill was a privilege. The performance combined a strong message with a very effective piece of drama.
The tour is also supporting the charity that saved them along with 700 other children: