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  • Gargi Datar

Unshared Childhoods

Actor, performer and kathak dancer, the writer of this review, Gargi Datar, is an emerging theatre maker. Originally from Pune, this 25 year old has grown fond of meeting new people in Mumbai, “Yes and-ing" everything and yes… that.

Review of Unshared Childhoods Conceived, Designed & Directed by: Tanvi Shah Written by: Anonymous writers around the world Produced By: Tanvi Shah Venue: Method, Juhu Date: 1 September 2023

In intimate spaces, the performance starts not after the third-bell, but when the first audience member walks in. Tanvi Shah, the director of Unshared Childhoods made sure the experience began right at the entrance. The melodic voices of Anusha Ramasubramoney and Meera Desai, paired with a hot glass of Kahwa, cosy throw pillows and mul curtains set the mood for what was to follow. 

Writing letters has been romanticised for centuries and rightly so, but the thrill of reading a letter not addressed to you was something else altogether! The letters weren’t written for an audience, they were private musings intended for a specific reader and yet, they struck a chord with the many faces that had gathered in the round to hear them unfold. The premise was simple yet powerful, one audience member was invited to read out a letter to another, both sitting in the centre of the circle and looking into each other’s eyes.

While participation might not be everyone’s cup-of-kahwa, we all soon warmed up to the idea of this role-play once we saw that it took no performative skills. From confessions of a boy about his sexuality to his grandmother, written with some tongue-in-cheek humour, to a strongly worded missive in support of Umar Khalid, the letters held experiences from all walks of life. Some were followed by acts of solidarity, like the lighting of a mime-candle that every teary-eyed audience member held on to, others were accompanied by small elements like lilies, sweets and Goan pez, that helped tie the evening together.

The production fostered an environment of intimacy, of a safe, brave space, of unabashed vulnerability, and took it a step further. They offered us blank pages to write our own letters on. These could be posted on our behalf if we wanted, or could be added to the Unshared Childhoods anonymous letter collection for future shows. This simple act allowed us an outlet for all the emotions that had welled up, and reinforced the genuineness of the letters that we had just heard. But through the evening, what stood out was the carefully curated line-up of letters and the team's bang-on instincts regarding the emotional roller-coaster ride they wanted to take the audience on. I was hooked.

Sometimes, the evening did get a little overwhelming. In a short span of time, including so many elements, while exciting as visual stimuli, were quite literal and diluted the various interpretations that we could have had. The show was strong at heart which made the interpretative movement accompanying each letter feel like white noise, frills for making it a theatre piece. But the beauty of theatre is that there are no set standards that make theatre, theatre. The norms were challenged but at the fringes. 

For the most part though, Unshared Childhoods ticked all the right boxes. They didn’t just encourage audience participation, but also engaged all our senses, they acted on instinct, and gave us an equal opportunity to hold space. They created an experience that left most speechless; ironic considering the star of the show was words. 

Keep an eye out for their next run of ticketed and private living room shows in March and April!

Cast & Credits: Music Composition and Sound Design: Anusha Ramasubramoney, Pushkar Srivatsal, and Meera Desai Live Music: Anusha Ramasubramoney and Meera Desai Movement: Paridnya Kallyanpur Moderation: Meghana AT Indian Sign Language Performance: Sangeeta Gala Indian Sign Language Interpretation: Madhu Keny Set Design: The Quilting House at Thotpot led by Tapan Mittal-Deshpande Production: Vidhi Mehra and Nirlek Dhulla Dramaturgical Support: Ryan Napier Poster Design: Disha Sanghvi Words: Anonymous writers from around the world Documentation: Siddharth Rawal Goan Pez by Marian D'Costa at Aiyo Patrao! Green Tea for Kahwa supplied by Fearless Tea


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