O’LEAR was one of the five best plays of a total of twenty-one plays staged at the 11th National drama festival held by the Nehru centre in Mumbai. I would have not hesitated to mark the play as the best but for my own limitation of not knowing the Kannada language. I therefore missed out on the finer nuances of the play. But despite the language barrier I found myself enjoying the play as a whole. Its various theatrical aspects were amalgamated very well.
The original play KING LEAR doesn’t need introduction. It is one of the best and widely performed Shakespearean tragedies. Although the play is 400 hundred years old it remains as relevant and as profound. In the Mysore based Rangayana Theatre’s adaptation of the play, the director Chidambara Rao Jambe has remained largely faithful to the original script but has more pertinently changed the ending. The happy end marks a departure from the original tragedy in which both Lear and Cordelia die. This end is however not in contradiction with the layers of interpretation that the production brings about.
One can perceive the director’s touch as the play raises questions about life, ageing, relationships and insecurity. It is complete in its ability to raise timeless questions and becomes more like a circle that has no beginning, middle or end. The set design is simplified giving rise to the endless possibilities of dramatic compositions and unobtrusive fluidity to the movements of the actors. The space was almost neutral with an irregular mound in the centre that occupied the large area. At the stage right a high platform had a covered front while at the stage left, a sort of insignia suspended from the top. It was dimly lit by a rectangular jute piece with bright red or a blue coloured spotlight falling in between.
This set would perhaps have not been so effective were it not for the imaginative use of lights. Throughout the play the lighting sustains a chiaroscuro quality and reveals only as much as is needed. Along with dark and light shades the use of primary colours was bold and effective. No action was missed in the dark and nothing was unnecessary illuminated. The muted and the earthy dark robe of Lear’s created an image of an animal caged in his past; a giant bird unable to take off. The daughters were adequately dressed and so were the jesters and the courtiers.
The set design and the stage property at hand were innovative and some of the touches were brilliant. For instance the scene in which the demented king thrashes the two puppets, which symbolized his two elder daughters was so evocative that even without knowing a word, the act touches the heart. The most significant contribution to the success of the show was the team of actors. From Lear to the smallest role played, the artists displayed much conviction in the script and in the characters they assumed. From Lear to jester, from the princesses to the servants and the messengers, each role was complete. And therefore in spite of its happy ending, O’LEAR leaves a lingering feeling of sadness.
Credit for this wonderful production goes to H.S. Shivaprakash for translating the play into Kannada, to Chidambara Rao Jambe for direction, H.K. Dwarakanath for stage design, Sagai Raju for Light design, Mahadeva for operating the lights, to Saroja Hegde/Srinivas Bhat for their music and finally to Santosh Kumar Kasanoor for his brilliant performance as Lear.
It was disturbing that there were hardly 150-175 people in the auditorium. The reasons range from the language of the play to the ieptitude on part of the organizers. The production was scheduled for a weekday afternoon show and lacked proper publicity. The organisers could have at least ensured the distribution of the production’s programme. The programme would have helped the audience get a more clear idea of the adaptation and its interpretation. The Nehru Centre officials should understand that merely staging a good production is not enough. It must be supported by a decent house. This is the first time that Rangayana has participated in the festival. I look forward to see more of their work in the future.
*The writer is a senior theatre and television person who has trained under Ebrahim Alkazi at the National School of Drama (NSD). She has written for publications such as ‘The Asian Age’ and is a regular contributor to the Prithvi Theatre Newsletter (PT Notes). She also offers theatre training to students at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and is an important critical voice for the Gujarati Theatre.