Clare in the Butterfly Garden
Bestia seemed a kaleidoscope of familiar stories reborn as a cautionary tale. The emphasis shifts from primal fears of invisible forces and the powers of magic to the twin messages of environmental awareness and the ethical imperatives associated with speciesism. As they say in Spanish: es tan bestia que quería meter el piano por la ventana.
The atmosphere and freedom created by the setting empowered the actors and reduced the need to develop characters or establish a setting. While the play was short, it actually began when the audience entered the candlelit amphitheatre.
While the actors represented the animals of the forest, the audience was also aware, like Shalmali, that snakes, spiders, toads, rats, bush hens, mongoose and wild dogs lurked unseen in the undergrowth. Imagining the unknown creates strong dramatic tension.
The deconstruction of the rabbit figure shows a clear historical development from the cuteness of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Richard Adam’s Watership Down to the guile and cunning of Brer Rabbit popularized by Disney. Eventually there is the metamorphosis of this benign figure into the frightening rabbit of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. Frank, the rabbit offers Donnie support and advice while at the same time possessing sinister and demonic powers. Karan provided such energy and sincerity to the part that it was difficult to believe that he had not been misplaced by one of Donnie’s worm-holes.
Christoph‘s acting was a little wooden but he grows into the part and brings the gravitas of Tolkein’s Ents to the disparate characters who inhabit his forest. The brother, while the catalyst for the plot, turned in a terrible performance but Hana as Bambi rejected genocide and helped free Shalmali in a way that suggests the possibilities of a rapprochement between humans and animals. Rebecca was a graceful and convincing owl, when she wasn’t playing mother. It was difficult to determine which role suited her best. The moon was one of the stars of the show.
The rhyme of the script was significant in stylizing the play and the humour broke the boundaries of the Grimm fairytales and shifted to the whimsy of Lewis Carroll. Students and most faculty responded to the familiar jokes about a Napoleonic complex or the swallowing of dictionaries. The subtlety of the unraveling of Shalmali’s experiences with the presentation of the rabbit stew was both humorous and a clever shift back to reality. All writers draw on their experiences and the degree to which this play was autobiographical will provide critics with many opportunities for exploring psychological interpretations.
Perhaps if the flute player (Wan Yi) had dressed as Pan there might have been added enigmatic absurdity and it may have also allowed her to be rewarded with a bow at the end along with the rest of the cast and crew. A Jabberwocky would have been a powerful counterpoint to the Rabbit and the burning of Shalmali as a witch might have provided a powerful visual effect and historically accurate description of the appropriate social outcome of her meddling with the forces of evil. But maybe these ideas are just the outcome of my imagination being overstimulated by an intriguing and entertaining presentation.
While this reviewer continues to lament the narrow cultural framework that the plays have drawn on, the 2011 Theatre Season was successful in its ability to explore the range of skills in our community and encourage significant teamwork. Until next year, we will all just have to make do with the unremitting informal dramas of everyday College life.
A sense of voyeurism held the audience throughout the challenging production of Merantau where the six cast members exposed a range of raw emotions in a confusion of passion.
Various interpretations circulated post-performance. One popular view was that we were watching the adventures of a group of Ninja agents operating in hostile territory. The opening showed the strict training and the display of physical prowess, another scene showed the infiltration of the Ninjas into a hostile environment (the audience). Their powers to transcend life and death left the audience with a strong sense of their supernatural powers. An extension of this idea is to link the play to Pencak Silat, the ancient Indonesian martial art and the journey that was foreshadowed from the translation of the Indonesian word merantau. The opening screen then becomes the geek’s version of the Wayang Kulit and the music the insistent monotony of the gamelan while the actors present their shadow lives.
A more popular view was the play as an allegory of the development of Capitalism in China – the silent opening and the growing ‘voice’ of China in the world, the infiltration of Western markets by joining the audience and laughing at the naivety of Western consumers. The sickness of the 2008 economic crisis was brilliantly portrayed by the coughing agony of the capitalist countries who, while operating collectively, always held their own self-interest above that of the others in the group. The final unmasking of those hidden faces behind globalization and multinationals provided a climax and the collapse of capitalism was eerily portrayed by the suicide of each cast member as share markets plummet. The six actors represent the G6, Europe’s six most powerful nations. The denouement provided the opportunity for a new world order, perhaps the re-birth of a Christ-like Keynes figure to bring a New World Order incorporating the established power of the East.
Other views saw the play as an exploration of madness, the elements of Marat Sade and Perkin’s The Yellow Wallpaper where walls and light are boundaries, being particularly dominant.
Whatever the confusions created, the energy and the commitment of cast and crew to the performance carried the audience in the enigmatically named area of The Space, representing both the physical activity and the ‘space’ in the mind.
The music drew the audience Eastward and provided links to the theme of madness via the haunting music of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (蜘蛛巣城), particularly recalling the growing hysteria of the mad dashes of Miki and Washizu around the eerie Spider’s Web Forest. Congratulations to both performers who provided a theme and continuity that was occasionally missing in the fragmented structure of the play.
It was a relief to move away from the predominantly Euro-centred theme of this year’s Theatre Season. Despite such a range of nationalities at UWCMC, its roots in India and the movement of almost all students to the educational teat of American Colleges, the dominant discourse for Theatre Season seems to be that of European rational organization. Merentau’s break with this was a brave challenge to that stiff orthodoxy.
Aronofsky’s film Black Swan and David Harrower’s Blackbird have in common the use of the motif of a bird – symbolically fragile and beautiful - that then presents its dark side to become the mirror opposite of our expectations. Both Una in Blackbird (Yanna) and Nina (Natalie Portman) in Black Swan struggle to play roles defined for them by society, yet they both somehow transcend their tragic failure and achieve a personal but flawed understanding of their lives.
The play places significant demands on the two actors who carry on their conversations almost as two distinct monologues. The ebb and flow of this dialogue creates a pattern where first one, then the other, assumes a position of power and credibility in the eyes of the audience. Una’s bitter denunciation of Ray and his apparent deep contrition create an atmosphere where the audience almost believe the taboo romance of fifteen years earlier might create a solution to the apparently equally damaged and flawed characters. Yanna’s interrogation creates enormous pressure on Tudor, and the bastard certainly deserves it.
As the play develops the audience becomes complicit in the sense of voyeurism and tawdriness that is the hallmark of popular media. Like Clegg in John Fowles’ The Collector, Ray presents his case for a legitimacy of his actions. The audience explores the options for blame, the possibility for Ray to be free of responsibility and Una to be both victim and seducer simultaneously. Society’s intervention is as condemned as it is inevitable and proper. The sinister nature of the play’s denouement is cleverly worked into the plot as Yanna and Tudor pace the narrow corridor that is the stage, amidst the rubbish and detritus representing the dysfunctional world they both operate in.
Playwrights traditionally reflect issues in society and the shock value of taboos. Sophocles explored the theme of disobedience in Antigone, Shakespeare raised love above family responsibility in Romeo and Juliet. Harrower shows the same concept of sensationalism by exploring the hypocrisy of society through Ray’s unlawful liaison with the twelve year old Una and the awful crime of pedophilia. Society fails to provide anything other than token support for Una and a punishment that offers no redemption or reform for Ray. The mood darkens dramatically when Una sees not only Ray’s partner, but his stepdaughter, a reflection of herself fifteen years earlier, and she reaches the shattering awareness that not only is Ray a pedophile, but the illusion she had nurtured that there was, at the heart of their brief affair, some essence of integrity.
Choosing a play that limits the opportunity for a larger cast diminishes the option to seek a range of new talent. The rawness of the two young actors in this production showed significant possibilities, but perhaps the lesson is that the Mahindra College Theatre Season is a broader concept than just the actors. This was shown admirably through the teamwork and evident enthusiasm of the production group. Costuming was a challenge - Jeppe would, I am sure, join me in condemning the dress sense of Una and Ray whose ill-fitting and uncomfortable costuming reflects their lack of confidence and a sense of hopelessness that invades the play. The decision to present in a classroom suggests that the production team wished to emphasise the didactic nature of Harrower’s play. What then should the audience reflect on? The historical illicit relationships of UWCMC? The tragic consequences of crossing boundaries pursuing freedom? Perhaps the inability of Ray and Una to acknowledge who they are while consciously exploring the boundaries of the roles they play? Should we reflect on the one million child prostitutes in India? Perhaps none of these, but David Harrower and those active in this production for the UWCMC Theatre Season will be disappointed if you don’t respond to some aspect of the plight of the Blackbird.
Learning Resources department