A week of theatricals

March 11th, 2008

Not exactly a bunch of reviews, but Bangalore has seen a lot of good English theatre in the last week, and here’s my take on them.

Firstly there was Lucknow ’76 written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar on the 1st and 2nd. Then there was my Poile Sengupta’s play Keats was a Tuber on the 4th, 5th and 6th. And finally this weekend just past, there was Invisible River by Gautam Raja.

Seeing these three plays in short succession makes one feel that English language theatre in Bangalore in still standing and those (including yours truly) who were ready to perform the final rites, were a bit hasty.

It’s not that the plays/performances were without flaws but they gave one a sense that it was worth the while to travel an hour (or longer) in maddening Bangalore traffic to watch them.

Lucknow ’76 has an interesting premise. Working across two periods in the history of the city, 1876 and 1976, the playwright tried to show the similarities between British imperialism and the Emergency. His portrayal of the period in 1876 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India was extremely well done. Unfortunately, the 1976 period was not nearly as well done, nor was it clearly linked together with the other story. Overall, it seemed like a good effort, but needed just a little more coherency. The acting was good, however, since there weren’t enough brochures around, I wasn’t able to figure out who played what role! The lighting was a little off the mark, tending to come in after the actors had moved. The music was performed live on stage with a single guitarist who also sang. Again, thanks to the lack of brochure, I don’t know who he was. He provided a good mood for the performance.

Two days later, was Keats was a Tuber. Directed by Ashish Sen and produced by Voices, the play was a revival of a over-ten-year-old performance, again directed by Ashish, with a mildly different cast. Pathy Aiyar took over from Preetham Koilpillai in the role of Raghu, while Stanley Pinto replaced Chippy Gangjee and Chandana Vasistha Aiyar played Damini. The production was not bad, with live music from Jagdish and Madhuri, but I was disappointed overall (having read the book… sorry script!). The play is primarily about the problems faced by Indians who speak English as opposed to their native language. Set in the English Department of a small town college, it talks of life and love and the English language. Shiv Kumar, as Mr Iyer, one of the lecturers, was stiff and wasn’t able to bring out any nuance. Ranita Hirji (Mrs. Nathan) the head of department, who asks Raghu (her nephew) to join the department to ostensibly fill up a three month teaching vacancy before leaving for higher studies abroad, was limited to being a college lecturer (formerly one in real life as well!). Stanley was good, Pathy was competent, Chandana was incapable of acting. Overall, I would have expected the play to be done differently (again having read the script), but it is upto the director! Then again, I felt that most of the audience seemed to have enjoyed it – which was the point.

Invisible River by Gautam Raja, directed by Ruchika Chanana, is set on the banks of the Ganga in Allahabad where a young doctor fighting against blind superstition is trying to clean up the river, while a young scientist is trying to prove that the river contains bacteriophages (virii that kill bacteria) which may help save lives. Starting off slowly, the premise pushes the play along with strong performances from Pritham Kumar and Veena Appiah. As I could see, the play would do well with a better child actor (and better lines for him!), while the entire concept of the Saraswathi being the invisible river is forgotten by the end of the play, even though it’s in the title!

Whew! Long post! I hope you managed to catch at least one of these performances this week. I’ll keep you updated if I hear that of repeat showings.

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