Haroun and The Sea of Stories – A Review

By Viraj Shankar & Vy Nguyen

Right before we all headed out for Thanksgiving break, many students were working harder than ever to put on one of the most interesting plays ever done here in the OES community.

For you folks who (regrettably) did not watch the play, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a tale centering Haroun, a young boy, and his father Rashid, a professional storyteller, who loses his ability to do so due to his grievances when his wife runs away with another man. Together, they embark on a journey which involves various fantastic characters in a mission to save the Sea of Stories and a princess.

 

You know those stories that are targeted at children, but turn out to be the freakiest thing you have ever seen? I am talking about Coraline and most Spielberg films that he dedicates to young kids. In my opinion, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is one of those classics, with its unmissable cheery tone persistent throughout the whole play, and it’s silly comical characters. However, the underlying message comes into perspective as I dig deeper into this seemingly childlike tale.

 

The first point I make is in regard to Haroun’s remarks on a happy ending. Toward the end, as Princess Batcheat is saved and the Ocean of Stories is cleaned, the Walrus grants the boy with the wish of a happy ending, which should seem like the best thing an innocent kid would opt for. However, he surprises everyone with his heavy, and at times dark, response that a happy ending is only the middle of a story and can only “cheer things up for a little while”. He notes that a happy ending is temporary and only a positive outlook to brace for another sad story. The fact that those realizations are from a young kid paints a grim picture.

 

The second detail I noticed was the unique ending to the play. The story draws to a close with Haroun’s birthday and obviously, a song. However, if we follow his depressing foreshadowing, we can see that his happiness will only last for a while. A theory to take into consideration when examining this ending is that the whole story, the whole play, is written by Rashid as a gift to his son, who was going to be prosecuted due to censorship at the time. The joyful notes made could be seen as a way to cheer up the boy, soothing him as his father is away. This conspiracy may also explain why Soraya, Haroun’s mother, is so welcomed when she decides to return to her family. Cheating is never acceptable, and given that Soraya’s betrayal is so upsetting and influential toward Haroun and Rashid, her return cannot be seen as just another happy ending.

 

Next, the similar faces. In the play, we can see various people in Haroun’s sad city reappear as different characters during his journey in the Ocean of Stories. Mr Sengupta, the neighbor Soraya leaves with, has the same face as Khattam-Shud, the villain who aims to pollute the Sea of Stories. Mr Butt, a reckless bus driver, reappears as Butt, a mechanical hoopoe (in another word, a robot bird) that Haroun bonds quite well with. This opens up another theory that the story is a dream of Haroun. In the early scenes of the play, he seems to undergo a form of ADD in which he is unable to focus for more than eleven minutes (due to his mother leaving them at exactly 11am). Deeply saddened by the departure, Haroun may have spent his time fantasizing through stories that never happened to overcome the emptiness and cope with the trauma.

 

It is an understatement to say that this play left most audience in either confusion or bafflement. In many conversations I had with various people who have watched the play, while recalling the play, they usually started with a phrase like, “It was wild/ wacky/ interesting/ confusing”, with slight variation. As this became a relatively common theme, I recalled my first time reading the script (out of sudden curiosity because a lot of my friends were in it). The back-to-back conversation between the chorus and their appearance throughout the play had mixed up my understanding of what was going on and interpreting the focus of the scene. But watching the play and being able to visualize the stage helped give light to this truly heartfelt, well-thought out play.

 

A diverse and talented group of actors made the play all the more compelling to watch. Many actors really sunk into their role and let their character fully take over their actions and emotions. From Jillian Scott’s role of resilience in playing Haroun, to Sydney Roth’s brilliant use of sarcasm while playing Iff the Water Genie, a wide spectrum of emotions created a vibrant, vivid spectacle in front of the audience. All of the cast members commanded the stage, while the relatively intimate setting of the play allowed viewers to be fully immersed into Haroun’s adventures.

 

The stagecraft and lighting also helped bring this play to the next level. A complex, fragmented wooden backdrop created a visual aesthetic that left everyone awestruck. A large painted floor gave even more depth to the scenes, providing a solid background scene to help highlight the natural talent of the cast. Lighting and sound effects also enriched the experience, with special regard to monologues (and for one scene, voice over!).

 

Everyone who helped in making this play should be proud of themselves. It is obviously reflected in the quality of this play. I saw a lot of doubt being expressed by cast members on how this play was going to go, but needless to say, they did not disappoint. But being at this play also reminded me of one more thing: being able to see our community come together. As I observed the crowd, and while all of us watched the play, we were all laughing and clapping, and we were more unified than ever. For those two hours, everything that may have divided us ceased to exist, as we all focused on watching this wonderful story unfold. And that sense of community, I think, is one of the most fulfilling things about watching an OES play. Seeing your OES friends in it, and seeing your family members and friends watch it, makes the whole experience even more enjoyable. There is this deep sense of belonging, of commitment, of dedication to our school, and creates a really fulfilling experience. I really recommend going to an OES play in the future. It’s definitely well worth your time.

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