Monthly Archives: January 2007

Age cannot wither…

Orange Sky’s production of Cleopatra was strong on costume and sets though the performances were slightly unconvincing

PASSIONATE QUEEN Cleopatra’s costume was grand as befitting the royal everyone loved to hate

William Shakespeare’s tale of love and deception along the shores of Nile and Rome, has captured the imagination of writers for centuries. Anthony and Cleopatra is as strong as its protagonists and is packed with intrigue, love and war. In a recent attempt, Bangalore-based Orange Sky presented their version of the famous play.

Adapted by Reshma Tonse and directed by Kanak Narayan Sen, Cleopatra was performed at the St. John’s auditorium. The play was executed well, with only a few technical hitches. The scenes moved rather swiftly between Cleopatra’s palace and Rome.

The stage is set to suggest these two locations with two Roman Coliseum like structures at the two ends of the front stage, and a pharaoh’s chair at the centre for Cleopatra and the actions happen in the appropriate areas.

Most of the stage was used well. The music too, occupies scenes between Anthony and Cleopatra, but ended rather abruptly every time.

The costumes were grand. Cleopatra was dressed in shimmering gold, and the rest of the cast in black. Keeping a basic style of the toga, the actors were given different styles in black. One can understand the need for neutral costumes and colours to avoid costume changes especially with same actors playing two roles, Tonse plays Charmaine and the soothsayer and the three main male characters — Agrippa, Anthony and Octavius Caesar — merged with other characters.

Structurally, the production followed the main plot of Shakespeare’s play.

So how is this play an adaptation? First, maybe in its attempt to recreate the classic to a modern audience, Tonse has retained the main characters in the play, doing away with more than a score characters in the original.

The director also suggests that the adaptation focuses on Cleopatra’s (Sudarshana Gupta) emotional trials, caught in self-doubt, vanity and fear. The plot in the adaptation is not far from the original. So are the characterisations. The single flaw? The performance seemed rather dilute and unconvincing. The strength and resoluteness of Cleopatra even in her emotional shifts, vanity and diffidence is missing. Rajiv Gupta, as Anthony was his confident self, Jaiprakash stood out as Agrippa, and was consistent.

While none of the actors had any problems with lines, they too struggled somewhere with being convinced themselves. Sudarshana Gupta’s work is apparent, nevertheless, her struggle to seem convincing as Cleopatra, only suggests that a play of Shakespeare, even if adapted, becomes in many ways both the best and the worst play for those who are working on it for the first time. Admittedly a difficult script such as this requires a lot of authorial and characterization support, otherwise faces the risk of showcasing good, potential talent, which ultimately does not touch.


Online edition of India’s National Newspaper
Thursday, Jan 18, 2007


Spectacular form

REAL TRIUMPH The performance presented an altruistic dimension to the demons

The seven-day Yakshagana festival in Bangalore recently was sparklingly refreshing.

In most traditional art forms the subject is usually mythology or the epics. It is all about spectacle, colourful costumes, lilting tunes, dances, the war between gods and demons, and the triumph of good over evil.

Such a spectacle was created for the audience recently, when the Gopalkrishna Yakshagana Mandali, toured and performed seven pieces from mythology keeping with the traditional Bayalaata (open air theatre) form for seven days in Bangalore recently.

Unlike the growing trend in the cities — of performing Yakshagana in a proscenium theatre — this weeklong festival took place in Girinangar, Bangalore.

The stage and the open-air auditorium were simple in design. A rectangular stage supported by four pillars was put together in the middle of the road. The audience, on chairs and on the floor, viewed the play from three sides of the stage, as always with any Bayalata.

Wide range
The seven plays, ranged from some well-known mythological stories or prasangas like Bhukailasa, Krishna Parijatha, Girija Kalyana, Jambhavati Veeramani, and Damayanti Swayamvara, some regional stories like Bappanadu Kshetra Mahaatme and Raaja Soudaasa.

Even while the stress is on the victory of good over evil, the real triumph of these performances is the manner in which they present altruistic dimension of the demons. For instance, in Bappanadu Kshetra Mahime, Daarikasura (the demon of the streets) is benevolent, a giver. Like most classical plays, the plays in the festival were male centric. The all male cast, a characteristic feature of Yakshagana, plays both the male and female roles. The Vidhushaka, or jester plays another prominent role in Yakshagana. Mijaru Timmappa and Balakrishna Maniyani as jesters were most enjoyable.

Eshwar Bhatt easily slipped into the female roles of Mandodari and Girije. M.R. Navada, stood out as Ravana and Daarikasura and managed several mid-air twirls in his performance. The 34 artists troupe was a good mixture of experienced artists and novices.

Time travel
Conventionally, a Yakshagana or a bayalaata performance, begins late in the evening, and is performed till about early hours of the morning.

However, this time round, the troupe began the performance at 6.30 p.m. and ended by 10. 30 p.m. This was obvious, because traditionally they are practiced and performed for over eight hours, but in this case had to be drastically condensed to three hours. There is no written script in Yakshagana, but the Bhagavatha, the lead singer, and for all purposes, the conductor or the director of the play, follows a song script, which traces the entire story line. The characters constantly interact with the himmela and the bhagavatha.

The Bhagavatha on his part renders the play and takes it to its end. It is probably this interactive nature of Yakshagana, that allows for the social focus to set in. Sometimes they even connect the mythological story to a local incident.

For many in the audience, this was probably the first brush with the ancient folk form.
Over the seven days, the performances were packed. and local patrons like Krishna Bhatt sponsored the whole festival.

The Hindu
Friday, 5th January 2007