Street closures around the NAC during Ottawa Race Weekend

A story that one learns over a lifetime: Mahabharata

A troupe of actors in gold, white and red garments surround a central figure seated in an ornate chair.
Photo: (L-R) Darren Kuppan, Navtej Sandhu, Sakuntala Ramanee, Harmage Singh Kalirai, Sukania Venugopal, Shawn Ahmed, Munish Sharma, Anaka Maharaj-Sandhu © Photo: David Cooper
Two actors in the Barbican production of Mahabharata. A man with short dark hair and a beard, and an older woman with long wavy silver hair.
Photo: (L-R) Shawn Ahmed, Sukania Venugopal © Photo: David Cooper

Your generous support of the NAC’s National Creation Fund recently helped a new production make waves across the pond. After having its world premiere at the Shaw Festival in March 2023, Mahabharata, written and adapted by Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes of Why Not Theatre, had its international premiere at London’s Barbican Centre in early October. 

The two-part show, which The Times (London) praised as “Four-and-a-half hours of glorious storytelling,” is a modern retelling of an ancient Sanskrit epic. Miriam shares “The experience at the Barbican was completely electric. UK audiences came out in droves, we played to sold-out houses almost every night, and there were standing ovations after every single performance.”  

But this was just the tip of the iceberg for Miriam. She continues, “We didn’t know what to expect, but were certainly blown away by the audience’s response. And the fact that so many South Asians came out (who had never been to the Barbican before!) was the true feat.”   

Your support of the National Creation Fund allowed Why Not Theatre to bring together the international cast, musicians and the creative team for several extended workshops to collectively develop this large-scale project. “We had many international presenters come to see the production. It’s clear it will have a longer life—which is tremendous for a Canadian production of this scale.” Miriam shares. Ravi adds “The investment you put into us and this project helped us make history. We are the first English-speaking Canadian company to be produced at Barbican at this size and scale.” 

In fact, future tours of Mahabharata — including Canadian stops — are being planned for the 2024–2025 season. “We are so deeply grateful for all of the support of the NAC and the Creation Fund as crucial partners on this epic journey.” Miriam says. “We could not have done it without you. So much gratitude for believing in us and helping us pull off this massive task.” Ravi shares, “Thank you so much for believing in us, and for getting behind us in a REAL way. It is so rare in Canada. This has made such an impact on so many people, and it will be felt for a long time… by so many more!” 

Mahabharata is a Why Not Theatre production, in association with Barbican, London, commissioned and presented by the Shaw Festival. 

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