Show’s astonishing visuals reveal a captivating world

The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company
The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company

The classical dance drama of Kerala, South India comes to Crawley with a visit from the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company.

They will be in action in the The Hawth Studio on Wednesday, June 3, at 7.45pm, direct from Kerala, promising unforgettable Kathakali performances, top international performers, superb singers, rhythmic drummers and highly-skilled make-up artists.

The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company

The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company

The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company was founded in 1987 by Kathakali actor Kalamandalam Vijayakumar and Kathakali make-up specialist Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar.

As Barbara, the world’s first female Kathakali make-up artist, says: “There is really nothing like Kathakali dance. It is something that is so engaging. It has got the ability to bring together people of all ages, from all different parts of the world through the magic of story-telling.

“Even tiny children and babies are absolutely spellbound. It’s about the colours and about the facial expressions.

“Someone brought an eight-month old baby. She was at the back, but as soon as they came down the front, it started kicking its legs to the music and started really watching. It was the facial expressions it was responding to. Children that age are reading the world visually until they start reading through language.

“They love the exaggerated expressions, and they love the sparkle. You see the children, and they just love the sparkly bits.

“We are based in Southampton, but we take the dance all over the world, all over the UK. We don’t really have a building. We just go out to the people. We are a touring theatre group.”

For Barbara, it’s all the latest step on a remarkable journey that goes back to 1972: “I went overland to India, as you did in those days. I slept in fields on my way. I went through Afghanistan. I remember being taken up into the mountains, and they gave me fried eggs and bread and water from the well. It was so clear and so cool!

“I was 18. I had no fear! I was so innocent. That kept me alive! I was just going to India. People asked me how I did it. I just used to say ‘I put one foot in front of the other!’ It took me six months. I spent a lot of time in Turkey as well on the way. It was just the love of travelling, the love of people, the love of seeing new places.”

And it was in India that she discovered the art of Kathakali, the masterpiece of sacred theatre that erupts on stage with striking visual images that expose the magical world of South India. Nurtured for centuries by the people of Kerala, Kathakali leads the audience into the entrancing world of storytelling.

Kathakali can be traced back to Koodiyattam, the only surviving Sanskrit drama in the world, and Krishnanattam, a dance drama performed as an act of devotion to Lord Krishna.

Kathakali has been ingrained in the temple culture of Kerala for centuries, bringing the ancient stories alive with precision, extraordinary characters, powerful music and stunning images.

As Barbara explains, Kathakali is one of the most powerful forms of theatre in the world. The characters are completely transformed through elaborate three-dimensional make-up called Chutti.

“The actors, traditionally men, express grace, power and destruction. As the story unfolds, a Kathakali play provides both a gateway to the past and a vision of the future. Relationships have changed very little since these symbolic plays were written, to challenge the spiritual values and social behaviour of the community.”

Tickets on 01293 553636 or by visiting

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