Monday, 30th October 2017

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Unable to reach greater heights

THEATRE: Two adaptations of Pirandello and Brecht struggle to steal a march

By Anshuman Bhowmick
  • Published 23.05.20, 1:32 AM
  • Updated 23.05.20, 1:32 AM
  • 2 mins read
A moment from Sher Afghan. Sansriti

Right before the theatres closed sine die in downtown Calcutta, two Bengali adaptations of 20th-century European classics caught our fancy. The new-found love of Sansriti’s director, Debesh Chattopadhyay, for Luigi Pirandello’s plays, which were previously tried and tested by Nandikar in the 1960s with Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay at the helm, is reaping rich dividends. Chattopadhyay, hitherto known for his penchant for shuffling the playtext, not to mention tweaks and turns, remains surprisingly faithful to Bandyopadhyay’s adaptation. If last year’s Kothakar Charitra Kothay Rekhecho, an adaptation of Six Characters in Search of an Author, posed a challenge to the regular audience of Bengali proscenium theatre, Sher Afghan takes the challenge a notch higher. Considering the overwhelming sense of déjà vu that marks contemporary Calcutta theatre, this is a whiff of fresh air — both in terms of content and treatment.

Sher Afghan, Bandyopadhyay’s reworking of Pirandello’s Henry IV aka Enrico IV, deals with the shadowy zone where madness and imagination interplay and the thin lines connecting recovery and recurrence overlap. Chattopadhyay underlines the law of uncertainty by designing a stage with predominantly Islamic domes and minarets, all tilted and slanted beyond reason, and using semi-transparent sheets to allow more flexibility with lights. Sudip Sanyal’s light design, also complementing the period costumes, gave him perfect company. This premeditated move, centering upon a huge movable rostrum with ascending steps that has become the centrepiece in Chattopadhyay’s recent scenography, makes the 120-minute-long experience a visual joy. Two intervals to segregate the acts and reorient the stage décor adds to the bafflement. As this reviewer caught the action at the Academy of Fine Arts on March 12, the buzz inside and outside the performing arena highlighted the regular theatre-goers’ craving for out-of-the-box innovations.

One wishes the actors could live up to the promise and help create an immersive space, for most of them looked listless as the play rolled on. The lead actor, Rajatava Dutta, seemed out of his wits most of the time, and Sudipta Basu’s versatility remained half-baked. Barring Souvik Majumdar, Rahul Sengupta and the veteran, Ranajit Chakraborty — the missing link between the Nandikar production and this one — the rest of the cast simply fizzled out. As one applauds Sansriti for taking the road not taken and putting on a brave front, Sher Afghan fails to make the cut.

Vitton, Pancham Vaidic’s contemporary reworking of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, was staged at Madhusudan Mancha on March 15. Adapted and directed by Arpita Ghosh, Vitton is a brave departure from the group’s realistic oeuvre. With the lumpenization of the Indian polity entering a new phase and politically-backed musclemen running amok in the remaining sanctuaries of the Bengali bhadralok, the choice seems obvious. Ghosh’s script refers to the world around us succinctly, and flirts with the colour code rather effectively. Roping in Arna Mukhopadhyay for the gangster’s lead part and Korak Samanta to play his sidekick worked well with the not-so-ambitious production design. The veteran, Babu Dutta Roy, playing the old-order patriarch with authority, did steal some thunder from the deadly duo. Ghosh herself chipped in with a cameo of a grooming expert: an authentic portrayal mixing satire and caricature. However, the rest of the cast and the chorus, multitasking and playing multiple parts, were inadequate. This is disappointing for the group’s previous brush with Brecht, Samadhan (The Measures Taken), looked poised for greater heights.