13 August 2022
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
I got a chance to catch one of the last performances of Chasing Hares at the Young Vic. The play started with a bit of a delay, but the theatre offered drinks for all patrons waiting in the scorching heat, so the wait was sweetened a little. Once everyone was finally seated and the show was ready to go, the play started with a contemporary opening.
The play is mainly set in 2000s Kolkata, India, focussing on the dire situation of garment factory workers with factories struggling to secure orders, driving down wages and worsening living and working conditions for thousands of workers, as well as rampant child labour. Prad, a machinist at the Khub Bhalo garment factory, joins a Jatra (Bengali folk theatre) troupe that is lead by Dev, the son of the factory owner. Prad feels his idealism sparked and wants to write new material to capture the spirit of struggling workers. He begins writing Animal Farm style allegories, but is offered a higher position with a fixed contract at the factory as long as he has the favour of Dev, who wants to change Prad’s writing repeatedly. When Prad is contacted by a journalist urging him to help her in unveiling the awful conditions children as young as eight work under in the factory, he has to make a difficult decision.
What I found a little confusing was that Prad’s wife starts off supporting him in his idealism to fight for a fairer world, reminding him that Jatra is supposed to be “for the people”, but quickly changes her tone as soon as they have a nicer home and more money to spare, threatening to leave Prad if he dares to make a fuss. She seems more like a convenient plot device, but the her struggle, and of course Prad’s difficult decisions, do reflect how it can be very difficult to make the “right” choice in a moral predicament.
The play is very emotional and builds up a union-supportive, grass roots type rebellion in a world that oppresses people to deliberately keep them powerless to better their situation. It later draws parallels to today’s gig economy, showing Prad’s daughter in contemporary Britain, working for a food delivery app with no basic employment rights and very little pay.
Chasing Hares carries a very powerful message of unity, equality, worker’s rights, and personal sacrifice. Though it is not at all subtle about it, it’s a compelling story that has a history-repeating-itself feel to it. Definitely one of the most impactful political plays I’ve seen this year!