Three recent solo shows gave us glimpses of uncommon acting styles. Padatik’s A Woman Alone illustrates the satirical thrust of Franca Rame and Dario Fo. The monologist in it addresses her new neighbour through a window, recounting her typical daily routine as it unfolds around her. Locked in her flat by her husband, she cooks, cleans and irons, nurses her baby and crippled brother-in-law, and wards off various nuisances. Rame combined radical feminism with her family heritage of popular farce (after all, commedia dell’arte comes from Italy), stating unequivocally, “because we women have been crying for 2000 years … let’s laugh now, even at ourselves”. Hence, Sanchayita Bhattacharjee’s clown makeup and quick robotic movements, ready even to blow her head off with a rifle (picture). Mainstream psychological realism would miss the point, yet director Mahmud Alam could exaggerate the burlesque further. His olive and grey design perceptively incorporates even the floor.
Alliance Française celebrated Marguerite Duras’s centenary with the Compagnie du Barrage’s Le Vice-consul in French, with English surtitles. Viewers of last year’s Gates to India Song knew the story. Maud Andrieux, the scripter-soloist, began with the Cambodian woman’s trip to Calcutta, succeeded by the passion of the tortured former vice-consul in Lahore for the French ambassador’s wife. Possibly following Duras’s reactionary dictum, “Theatre must be read out, not acted” (which I discussed in my review of Gates), Andrieux narrated rather than performed, a storyteller rather than actor. Although a legitimate technique, it detracts from theatricality, leaving us to wonder, did one gain anything from such a fragmented retelling that a full reading of the novel could not give?
British Council’s Bharat Blighty and the Bard, featuring Madhav Sharma, marked Shakespeare’s 450th birth anniversary. It traced Sharma’s journey from his Calcutta and Indian roots to apprenticeship in Geoffrey Kendal’s Shakespeareana and eventually, against Kendal’s advice, his emigration to the nation that produced Shakespeare, where he is now the oldest actor of Indian origin. He interspersed anecdotes from his life with those of the Bard’s, and as many as 30 passages from the Works, including sonnets and poems. While parts of his autobiography captured our imagination, his characterizations did not. Romeo courting Juliet, Lear mourning Cordelia, everyone spoke in the same undifferentiated but sonorous delivery, a relic of the classical British method practised by Kendal and last exemplified by Gielgud and Olivier, their stately eloquence with blank verse rendered obsolete since the theatrical revolution led by Brook in the Royal Shakespeare Company, 1964-70. Nobody elocutes Shakespeare after that. I cannot understand why director Miranda Lapworth allowed it.