‘Theatre Week’ was initiated by a member of faculty at Mahindra College several years back, and it immediately became a cherished tradition.Some years, there were as many as seven plays on in a week and more than half the college population was involved in some aspect of the productions! More recently, the cluster of plays was commuted to ‘Theatre Weekends’ to give people a chance to share equipment, get to each others shows and also to break up the intensity of the occasion for the sake of everyone’s health and sanity! This worked well, and became what is now a ‘Theatre Season’ through the whole month of February at MUWCI. Another expansion has been an attempt to make connections between the theatre shows we put on here and the outside world, for the purpose of introducing more cultural exposure here, to raise standards and expectations, and to share with others what we are doing.
This year, we had seven productions in Theatre Season, and it was surely one of the best ever, exploiting a variety of venues on campus and presenting a diversity of dramatic forms and functions. We were also fortunate to have visiting artists who engaged the students in reflection about the meaning of their theatre making and the possibilities it holds for problem-solving and transformation. First, there was Marc Weinblatt, whose ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ facilitation led to some very outspoken and soul searching dialogue in the college as a whole. Then the contrasting one man shows of Tim Mann and Parnab Mukherjee, the first of which inspired some daring theatre enterprise on the part of students and resulted in their performance for the Sadhana Special Friends who were curious and delighted with the offering.
Special thanks are due to the Sodexo workers who moved furniture, staging for each production and to Nautial and Eknath, electricians, who were on call for lighting and sound support. The students in the sound and light crew, who worked very hard to achieve some very creative and professional results, and to the Theatre Core Group who, with Zia, coordinated submissions and auditions, venues and budgets for all the productions. Thank you!
Blackbird (David Harrower, Zia)
Zia took the plunge and started Theatre Season early this year with a typically Zia psychodrama investigating a case of paedophilia. Yanna and Tudor took up the challenge of Blackbird’s tense and naturalistic dialogue. This was extremely hard for a number of reasons, for example, the awkward interjections and overlaps written into the script and the uncompromising naturalism and restriction of the after-hours office setting. Most of all, the problem was to communicate and explore the untidy complex of emotions surrounding the memories these two characters were sharing after a long absence. Was her childhood thrill of power and love a forced aberration, his overwhelming desire an abusive perversion? During their conversation a number of different ways to look it are investigated and the confused emotions involved revisited even to the point of a furtive and passionate kiss. The play itself was decidedly adult and the young actors may not have completely realised everything there. However, they did well to tackle it at all and Yanna did come across as an uneasy mix of affected assurance and simmering complaint. Tudor, for whom this was an acting debut, gave a sincere performance about a sensitive issue without losing it. This was to his credit, and the audience was certainly left with thoughts about the matter of the play to go away and mull over, just as they should be.
The Fairy tales of Mr Night (Benjamin and Krista)
Is your life a story? Have you ever wondered who wrote it?
A young man is struggling with the question of free will as he observes the story of his life being told through the fairy tale characters of the Brothers Grimm. With Laura and Margot as the lethargic psychiatric establishment, and Bartek and Lennart as a pair of bumbling Bavarian-looking authors, the story got off to a comical start.
The tidy central conceit is maintained throughout until the doctor (Laura) finally points out to our young hero that he has found the teller of his story and is ready to live his life, in essence, he is cured. Ironically, Guillaume had fallen out of a tree the night before curtain-up and so was in a wheel chair or on crutches throughout. In the last scene he literally threw his crutches away as he found his new psychological security and embarked on the prospect of taking up the reins of his own life-carriage.
Although the play did hang together as a whole, there was some sense that we were missing parts of the weave that might still be filled in, and we enjoyed it more as a series of vignettes. Lucia and Santiago were great fun as little red riding hood and the wolf, while Yaniv’s effusive young prince with sparkling golden crown was a hilarious foil to Karen’s altogether more grown-up Repunzel (Karen showing the presence to really carry a show). It was a charming setting of a touching tale.
Space (Timothy Mann and Neil Farrelly)
On the following night, in the same venue – the Art Centre - Timothy Mann combined the versatility of a mime with the timing of a stand-up in a sequence of bizarre interactive interludes called ‘Space’. The semi-improvised performance-art was impressive as he leaped in and out of a series of distinct, and often hilarious, characters. Tim’s interactions with the audience were also surprisingly telling, and there were hilarious moments as the audience met face to face (nose to nose) with the faith healing ‘Vacuum Man’, the arthritic professor of astronomy, or the self-aggrandising macho-man ‘Mike’. Meanwhile, the farcical and tragicomic rubbed shoulders in a tenuous narrative unfolding between the far-flung characters. Our theatre students then took part in the show, staging an interlude ensemble piece looking at some interpretations of Space – particularly in terms of personal and national boundaries. This was fun, and both performers and audience were energised by the experiment. In the second half, as the strands of the story started weaving together towards a sad conclusion, Tim’s amiable professor invited the audience to release the atoms they had stowed away earlier off into the atmospheres and a fan of hopeful hands lifted up in to the night sky. Neil, the director, finished off the evening by inviting the students to run a short, wild improvisation session on the main theme to close.For more information on Nose2Nose.
Nekropolis (Parnab Mukherjee)
Thanks to Karen Haydock for making contact with travelling performance activist Parnab Mukherjee, whose deep thoughts and concerns were shared in an hour of fascinating one man show. The solo began with tormenting images of the brutal mistreatment of prisoners by soldiers in some struggle somewhere – Myanmar, East Timor, Manipur? The excoriation of the soul of middle class complacency that followed used surprisingly classic texts and figures, in particular Gandhi and Tagore, as its references, while being unremittingly contemporary in its focus. In a dark tunnel a man sells first his silence, then his cliché, then his protest and fourth, his dreams. Finally, he gives up global citizenship - as a freebie. Along the way, he tries these ideas out to see what they mean to him and the social critique of the writer comes through. He points out the blind eyes turned to many injustices in India and South East Asia and examines the syndromes securing the complacency of a comfortable middle class. In particular, I noted his deep vitriol for the word ‘pedagogy’ and all the hypocrisy it’s used to cover – the ultimate, for him, in style without substance. It was a challenging and powerful thought process, staged with courage and spontaneity in the mode of Badal Sarkar’s ‘Third Theatre’. And surely it was thought provoking for everyone in the small and somewhat shell-shocked audience.
A minority view should have a meaningful place within the majority view…
Merantau (Phui-yi with Meret)
Merantau was a physical theatre exploration; a devised piece emerging from the theme ‘Spirituality at MUWCI’, by a small group of young actors. The commitment and passion of the performers was never in question, and their focus was impressive. Phui-yi has tried to ‘make the invisible visible’ (Peter Brook). In that, she has found a very essential task - one that is, perhaps, the aim of all art. Has she achieved it? That is for each member of the audience to say. Certainly, there was very alive and responsive, spontaneous, yet highly trained ensemble feeling, with mask work, movement and physical theatre practice worthy of a good theatre school. The theme became a rather dark meditation, in the end, with acrobatic manoeuvers conveying a sequence of half-deaths, suggested suicides, and a struggle to return to life. The setting was minimalist, yet completely professional: a small black-box theatre, a back-lit screen, some careful lighting, a box. In the corner, two musicians in black (Margit and Raunak) discreetly added a sound-scape of noises, whistles, hinted phrases, rhythms out of time and even, at one point, a melancholy dance on acoustic violin and skin drums. Above all, what impressed was the inspirational leadership and focus of the direction and the passion and energy of the performers. Beyond that, the show also achieved this, I think: it lifted people out of their every day sense of time and, by the intensity and presence of the actors’ work, the audience was given the chance to reflect a little longer, pause for breath.
Gross Indecency (Moises Kaufman, Alejandro and Omer)
This was an unpromising choice for theatre season, since we’re in an international setting; it is a wordy play that needs to move at high speed and with great clarity. Lucidity was something that Jeppe did, in fact, achieve remarkably well, despite English being a second, if not third, language for him, and his Oscar Wilde was suitably dignified. He had pathos too, and if he did not quite reach the sparkling panache and devastating regret of the original, we did, nonetheless feel bewildered and sad for him as the trials turned against him. Isis, as his nemesis in the form of Bozy’s outraged father and then as his final, imperious prosecutor, was confident and in command of both her copious lines and her roles to very good effect. There probably needed to be more ideas for the static chorus of commentators, who were required to take on a series of roles from jury, judges, newspaper reporters, relatives, public figures, male prostitutes. After quite a lot of thought about the play and its many issues, crucially, the cast managed to pull off an effective rendition without cheapening the subject matter and retaining the piece’s humour. The use of the well of the library was an inspired choice on the part of the directors. At the end, a palpable sense of achievement came off the stage in waves as the company took a bow. Not bad!
On the final weekend of the season, we were invited to the magical setting of the butterfly garden, enclosed with trees around the pond and lit by candles, to the strains of Wan-yi’s flute. This was the natural location for Clare’s original fairy tale with its contemporary ecological and psychological overtones, and its distinctly Victorian, morality-tale ethos. Shalmali was suitably wide-eyed and frantic as an older sister feeling neglected on the arrival in the family of her mewling and puking younger brother. In a, sometimes strained, series of rhyming and half rhyming heptameters, she sets off to magic him away by consulting the dark spirits of the forest. Karan managed an easy balance of menace and comedy in his portrayal of the embittered hare who brings the ecological theme to a head (forgive the pun). Beautiful papier-maché half masks brought to life the animal coven of untrustworthy souls who share her amateur necromancy. Thankfully, the actors were always at pains to make themselves audible, and attention to details of costume, set, lighting and ambience made it a gorgeous little production.