Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A quality festival

The festival of plays presented by Toto Funds The Arts showcased three very different versions of quality English theatre

INTERESTING PLOT The Hare and The Tortoise was visually engaging

Toto Funds The Arts recently presented a festival of three plays at Ranga Shankara. TFA, Rafiki and Adishakti Laboratory presented works of Ionesco (Exit the King), Fugard (The Island) and an original play called The Hare and The Tortoise directed by Anmol Vellani, Rafiki and Veenapani Chawla respectively.

"Exit the King" by Ionesco presents no new surprise or twist. The king, Berenger (Sanjay Iyer) is a larger-than-life king who has lived 400 years. On the day of his death — when the play begins — however, he is no longer the king whose domain captured millions of people, but rules a failing kingdom. His only desire, however, is to live on forever, and he will barter his kingdom for longevity, even if it means living alone for an eternity.

What is special about the play is the way Ionesco connects death and its inevitability to the politics of the day. Berenger is very relatable to leaders of the past as well as the present. The people around the king also nicely represent society at large. Heightening the effect were some beautifully executed moments, such as the end, where Berenger's first wife Margarite (Suman) leads him into his after life. The production, for the most part, tried to stay true to the absurd and farcical nature of the original play, setting the play in an old jazz bar with contemporary techno music. Sanjay Iyer as the King Berenger brought great energy to the stage and occupied much of the limelight. His portrayal of the narcissist king, alternating crisply between bouts of pathos, enthusiasm, fear and confidence, was captivating. Suman's singing parts and the lighting also helped make the play memorable.

Athol Fugard's "The Island", performed by Sachin Gurjale and Anish Victor was possibly the highlight of the festival. Though highly verbose in its construction, the play manages to hold one's attention easily. Like most of Athol Fugard's plays this one too centres on the struggles of African men in the time of the Apartheid. Here two common men are trapped in a jail, for rebelling against the Apartheid. They have to perform a piece form the Greek play Antigone in front of their officers.

The play is beautifully written to show the conflicts between the heart and the head, between feeling and the reason - the same conflict in Antigone. Being personally right and politically wrong is true to the prisoners as to Antigone. Gurjale and Victor as John and Winston present this subtle yet strong similarity with much ease. The longing for freedom, the anxiety of a father, lover, friend and son, jealousy and angst are all evoked powerfully. What is also interesting is the way in which light has been used realistically almost like a character in the play. There are parts when the actors are submerged in darkness, like at the very beginning when the two prisoners work on the beach as a part of their punishment for rebelling in the prison.

It however was disheartening to see that play did not see a full house like the other two plays.What gives "The Hare and the Tortoise" dramatic shape is the question or notion of `the race'.

"The race began simultaneously, but I reached instantly," sums up the "way" that forms the central notion of the piece. "Are there answers outside knowledge?" is one predominant question setting the pace of the play. The play works through stories of characters like Ganapati and Kartik, the hare and tortoise, Ekalavya and Arjuna and Hamlet, winners and losers in a variety of tales. Visually the play is thoroughly engaging. The play is a combination of sketches that use a variety of media, and verbal and physical texts. Music and light are used beautifully to create surreal moods and images. The contemporary jazz music played during the performance is instrumental in defining the concept of "now" as opposed to the "past" that Hamlet is preoccupied with. Acrobatic movements and contortions of artists Nimi Raphel (as Arjuna and Ekalavya), Vinay Kumar (Hamlet, The Hare), Suresh Kaliyath (Ganapathi) and the animated voice work of Arjun Shankar and Arvind Rane, coupled with the deftly-played music of Suresh Kaliyath, Pascal Sieger, Arjun Shankar and Arvind Rane stunningly enhance the ensemble work.


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