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Play of contrasts tugs at hearts

- Humour & pathos alternate in musical by St. James’

Do the Boys rock yeah yeah got feet tapping in the audience and with Parents, what kind of people do they think they are/ That I should have to owe them my life and nothing more, a pin-drop silence descended on the auditorium.

If Mr and Mrs Squeers, the tyrant owners of Dotheboys Hall, left everyone furious, the timid and frail Smike filled every heart with compassion and left at least a few eyes welling up.

Humour and pathos took turns in Smike Revisited, a two-hour musical presented by St. James’ School, in association with The Telegraph and powered by TTIS, at GD Birla Sabhaghar.

The adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby transported the audience to the dark and despondent world of Dotheboys School, but the boys stole their moments of fun even amid all the gloom. Punctuated with the right doses of humour, the sorrow never became too overpowering but neither did the play turn frivolous.

For many, the musical brought back memories of 25 years ago when it was first staged to mark 125 years of the school. The play was then directed by Phyllis Bose and had several professionals on the cast. The latest production by Katy Lai Roy, on the other hand, has students and two teachers as actors.

It was Ujaan Ganguly, a student of Class X, who stole the show as the despicable Mr Squeers. The transformation was so remarkable — right from mannerisms to dialogue delivery that 15 minutes into the musical, an acquaintance in the audience was still searching for Ujaan on stage when he had been there all the while. “He is right there… Mr Squeers?” someone had to point out.

“I’ve explored the apparently meaner side of me, whatever there is of it,” Ujaan had written in the brochure for the play. “And hopefully I will be able to ladle out that meanness in generous bowlfuls, with manly authority.” With his board exams a few months away, he missed a few classes by his own admission and apologised to teachers for not paying attention in class. “It was Mr Wackford Squeers Senior in me.”

All hearts, of course, went out to Smike, played by Souti Mukhopadhyay — the frail thin boy “never had a mum or dad to call my own”.

But it wasn’t acting skills alone that deserve mention but sheer tenacity as well. The boys performed on four consecutive days and even on Day IV the act was as impeccable and fresh as on Day I.

The crew also included two non-Jacobeans — Subhagata Singha of St. Xavier’s College scored the music while Smriti Agarwal of La Martiniere for Girls was the choreographer.