“The Memorandum” by Vaclav Havel, produced by rafiki at Ranga Shankara

Hailing from a State where politicians are often figures associated with writing, folk theatre and entertainment (Tamil Nadu), I was intrigued to see rafiki, the Bangalore theatre group, advertise their production of “The Memorandum”, a play by Vaclav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic. The translation was by Vera Blackwell.

Here’s the information I got on the net about the play: “The Memorandum is one of Havel’s best known and most popular plays. Inspired by the absurdities of life in Eastern Europe under Communism, Havel began writing the satirical play as early as 1960. Rewritten many times over the next few years, The Memorandum became the second of Havel’s plays produced at Prague’s Theatre of the Balustrade, where he was then literary manager. The play made its American debut in 1968 at the Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre. This production of The Memorandum won an Obie Award for best foreign play. The Memorandum was first produced in London in 1977, and has been revived regularly around the world.

“Like much of Havel’s writing, The Memorandum is political, at least implicitly. The play concerns the tribulations of Josef Gross, the managing director of an organization encumbered by a bureaucracy that is out of control. The introduction of an artificial language, Ptydepe, is supposed to streamline office communications, but only makes it worse. Havel’s satire is full of irony about the kind of jobs created by communism as well as the constant surveillance by office spies. Many critics have noted that the office politics depicted can be found around the world.”

rafiki, a Bangalore-based theatre group, staged a very impressive production of the play at Ranga Shankara on July 30 and 31, 2011. rafiki, (whose work I have followed since they staged the plays of south African playwright Athol Fougard,) usually chooses plays which address social issues.

The casting was excellent; in efficient fashion, Pritham Kumar took on three roles and Vinod Ravindran two. Niren Saldanha as Joseph Gross, Kanchan Bhattacharyya as Jan Ballas, Lekha Naidu ,Deepika Arwind and Rebecca Spurgeon as Hana, Maria and Helena, respectively, Ashish D’Abreo as Lear, Anshul Pathak as Otto Stroll, completed the cast. Their diction and delivery was clear, and credit for this also goes to the sound execution by Raghu Tenkayala. The music was not credited in the neat (yet inexpensive) brochure brought out by rafiki, (Deepika Arwind and Francis Amrit) but it added considerably to the mood of the play…the “busy-making” of the bureaucracy.

I must particularly mention the set design. Highlighting of diffferent areas (lighting design was by Anish Victor and Lakshmi Menon) evoked different locales without any change of stage properties. Two rotating “doors” of rectangular frames allowed the constant procession of the cast members to enter and exit, throughout the play’s duration. Take a bow, Dominic Taylor, Nagaraj, and Maria Das!

However, I was wondering if perhaps a little more colour could not be used…but perhaps the monochromes underlined the sere, stultifying atmosphere of the office. The choreography for these passages of the cast, around and across the stage, must have been quite complicated, and well-enough rehearsed to ensure that they were executed smoothly.The costumes, designed by Sheen Collections, were adequate, but rather unimaginative…the only criticism I have of this production.

Directing a play is no easy task; good direction is generally that which is not visible. Sachin Gurjale’s direction was seamless, and resulted in a performance without major glitches (at least, none visible to the audience!) Very often, it’s rather apparent when one member of the cast is newer than the others…such factors did not mar the production. The audience were well engaged throughout the staging, and the closing scene with lighted lamps served as a telling conclusion. The absurdity of the situations and the mandated languages had the audience often laughing aloud.

I am hoping to see more productions of this play by rafiki; it will be interesting to see how the presentation evolves. In all, an excellent production, and one I strongly recommend for the Bangalore theatre-goer.

Deepa Mohan
About Deepa Mohan 715 Articles

Deepa Mohan is a freelance writer and avid naturalist.