Intimate venue in Leamington’s Old Town hosts intriguing production

THE journey of a highly prized diamond that has drawn thousands to the British Museum in London is explored in a touring production coming to a restaurant in Leamington’s Old Town this weekend.

Hardial Singh Rai’s The Maharajah and the Kohinoor is being brought to the Grand Union in Clemens Street by London theatre company Zeroseefr and the Birmingham-based Drum Arts Centre.

Once the largest discovered diamond in the world, the Kohinoor is currently housed in the Tower of London. In 2009, when it was among the exhibits in the British Museum, Prime Minister David Cameron refused a request from India to return it, stating: “if you say yes to one, you will find the British Museum empty”.

The diamond has belonged to various Hindu, Mughal, Persian, Afghan, Sikh and British rulers who fought bitterly over it at various points in history.

It was finally seized by The East India Company and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877.

In the play, the journey of the Kohinoor - which translates as ‘Mountain of Light’ - is intertwined with the story of Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of Lahore, who was exiled from his kingdom by the British at the age of 11. He was sent to England and immediately became a court favourite of Queen Victoria.

But the injustices of Imperialism eventually drove him back to his ancestral roots - and finally into the arms of exploitive foreign meddlers, who offered allegiance but left him isolated. He died alone and penniless in Paris in 1893.

In this production, Leamington actors Taresh Solanki and Emma Sian Cooper play all the characters in an hour-long performance, telling the story of Duleep Singh through the eyes of the Kohinoor diamond.

Emma, who used to perform in productions at the Loft Theatre before going professional, said: “I know that Helen Wild at the Grand Union is keen to have a lot of artistic events there.

“We wanted to try out the space. The Victorian theme in there fits it really well.

“We haven’t yet performed the show in a restaurant, but we have been to all sorts of spaces, including schools, at the massive LA Convention Centre in the USA, in a marquee amidst a dance festival at the Edinburgh Mela and in art galleries.

“You can create a little world with the set wherever you are.”

She and Taresh, who set up Zeroseefr after meeting while performing in a production of The Maharajah a few years ago, have now been touring their version for two years.

She said: “It’s a great story to tell because, although it is true, it has a fairytale quality to it, but it’s also a very human story.”

The performance, which is directed by Harmage Singh Kalirai, takes place at the restaurant on Sunday at 7pm. For tickets, call 888278.