| Celia Meiras (foreground) and Louise Fitzgerald with participants at the workshop. Picture by Pabitra Das
A group of children, growing up in the midst of war, plays with shrapnel from exploding bombs. A child from the wild, looking for water in a drought-stricken village. An industrial town going through a depression. Strangers on an island where the sun always shines. A community in the countryside, where a family seeks solace.
After the success of Hannah and Hanna, director John Retallack and the two performers in the play, Louise Fitzgerald and Celia Meiras, guided a group of 18 young actors and actresses from the theatre community in Calcutta. For over three hours on Thursday morning, they discussed, practised and enacted the five themes, using metaphoric symbols and movement as their medium.
“It is all allegoric,” explains Retallack. “There is no script. Everything’s impromptu. How they present it is where the emphasis lies.” After the presentations, he felt that the methods were innovative and original. “But then, from what I have so far seen, theatre in Calcutta is not lacking in any way,” he says.
Some of the stories were based on well-known plays, like The Visit, about a town going through an industrial recession, on account of its most famous citizen forsaking it. Two others are scripts that Retallack is actually working on. One, about a child from the wilderness adapting to society; the other, about an Icelandic island that is ‘perfect’, stealing the warmth and light from its neighbours.
“The performances were wonderful. Something worth keeping in mind when I start on the new scripts,” he smiled at the gathering. While one group used music and dance to get across its message, another used metaphor, and sometimes, just one or two significant words.
“The theatre community in this city, both theatre-goers and performers, is very passionate about the stage,” observes Meiras. “We have taken Hannah and Hanna to other cities as well, like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, on our India tour. But Calcutta is different. Very friendly, vibrant and full of energy.”
Fitzgerald agrees that the city is definitely strong in the field of theatre, and “very busy, yet warm and friendly”. She adds: “I, myself, have learnt a lot from today’s workshop. Besides, performing on stage for an audience and interacting with other actors in a live workshop are two very different experiences. And from what I saw today, there is a lot of talent.”
On their agenda for the rest of the day, and on Friday, is a trip to the Book Fair, and a tour of the Coffee Shop on College Street. “Calcutta is all I imagined it to be,” says Retallack, who was last in India in 1988, directing Hamlet in Hindi for the NSD in Delhi. But this is his favourite city in India, he declares. “I didn’t expect a play about a Kosovan refugee in a small town in England to be understood here, but I was pleasantly surprised. People care.”
Kanak Gupta, a participant in Thursday’s workshop at the British Council, on Camac Street, pointed out: “This is a new kind of theatre, very unconventional. Not the usual overload of characters, talking at the same time. I liked the play, and it was a good opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from them.”