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Opening partnership fails, like cricket

Theatre is like one-day cricket in some ways. If the openers cannot make an impact in the first 15 overs (corresponding to the first 15 minutes in theatre), it means an uphill struggle lies ahead for the team. The partnership of Ralf Ralf failed to gather momentum in the opening segment of The Summit (presented by British Council at Birla Sabhagar on January 27) and effectively lost our attention.

Occasional flashes of brilliance later on salvaged some respect, but in general the production sounded forced, if not childish at certain points.

The Gorbachev-Reagan summit inspired the Stone brothers, Barnaby and Jonathan, to create this piece in 1987 and it has been rolling ever since, gathering a bit of moss, one dares say. The idea of invented languages on stage is not new (Ted Hughes wrote Orghast for Peter Brook), and the Stones implemented it only passably. For a barely sixty-minute-long show, too many sequences seemed drawn out beyond measure.

To be fair, it convinced whenever the duet met at the level of that cliche, “Music is the universal language.” In these instances, the verbal nonsense was superseded by communication through shared and recognisable musical idioms, in a sense underlining that theatre (hence human expression as well) gets across through texts other than the purely linguistic.

The brothers’ first long exchange in this manner skillfully traversed Western vocalese in parody, from opera songs to hip-hop rap. Later, they had a go at their version of talking drums, pounding out accomplished rhythms and counter rhythms at two ends of the negotiating table.

A rivetting, because unexpected, transformation took place when the siblings morphed into their bestial inner selves, grotesquely crawling over the table, hunched like gargoyles and antagonistically spitting at each other through their nether orifices. Then back again to a cappella harmonising that would do Simon and Garfunkel proud.

However, the debate portions and the hand-shaking did not work well.

At the level of body language, therefore, the Stones did not strike me as remarkably original, and could take a tip or two from their more famous rock namesake.

Another disappointment, though this time expected, was the theatrical leg of Sangit Kala Mandir’s annual five-day Utsav, in which the cast of the popular small-screen serial Kusum thought fit to grace the stage with their presence in a Hindi play written for them, Kusum Manohar Lele.

As always with such exploitation of the marketability of television stars, they look and sound most ill-at-ease in drama, and the script shows little variation from the screen stereotypes as regards situation and characterisation. Neither Naushin Sardar nor Sudesh Beri gave a noticeably different, let alone memorable, portrayal; Sardar’s super-virtuous persona was almost painful to watch.

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