In some ways, a theatre group has it easier when it is playing to an audience of children. Children are much more willing to suspend disbelief, and are easily entertained….and if the audience that I saw queueing up at Ranga Shankar on the evening of the 1st of September was any indication, that was true that day, too.
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I asked a few children, and their mothers, how they had heard about "Tenali Raman", the play that Bangalore Little Theatre was putting up that evening. Padma said that she had received an email from Indianstage, and Ranjani said that she often came to Ranga Shankara to check out the plays being staged for the children. Little Ananya had not read the story of Tenali Rama; neither had Megha, Padma’s daughter; but Tarun, Ranjani’s son, was familiar with the stories of Tenali Rama.
It was quite delightful to be sitting in a hall full of children, who bring a sense of joy to everything they do (except maybe going to school in the mornings!). Next to me, Tarun and his friends wriggled in delight at the prospect of seeing the play, and were completely immersed in it from the minute the lights went down.
The play showcased the rise to fame of the poor villager, Ramakrishna or Ramalinga, from the village of Tenali, and how he won the hearts of the king of Vijayanagara, Krishna Deva Raya, and the common people; how he understood and circumvented the plots of the other gems of the court, who were envious of his growing popularity; and how, at the same time, he caused bad practices and egoistic visitors to be shown up, and got justice for others as well as himself.
The costumes were the first thing that struck me; bright and colourful and glittering, they were a feast for the eye! At the same time, there was a lot of innovation, too. Two brooms used to sweep cobwebs did duty as the sentries’ lances, and a large bamboo basket, covered and decorated, was the "treasury" in a later scene. Buckets became thrones….so the costume and prop design was truly an excellent part of the play.
The dialogue was also very good; the ancient stories were peppered with several topical allusions, which had the adults in the audience laughing as hard as the children. The sutrdhar and his his two henchmen appeared now and then to move the narrative along as change of props, scenery and costumes happened behind them. A simple set (made up of PVC cans with plastic water pots on top! was the court of the king, with good lighting design creating fresh scenes on the same stage.
Though the play was pre-dominantly in English, several languages made their appearance, and it did not seem out of place at all in the general merriment! When several nursery rhymes were sung in Carnatic fashion, the children were quite delighted.
Several children were already in the cast, and performed their parts very well; I must particularly mention the young and very sweet Kali (we were never told her name!) who got a demon to bring out a "Boon Menu" to Kalidasa!
One of the ways BLT involved all the children was to bring them all from the audience on stage during on scene, and the children, hesitant at first, warmed up soon…and swarmed up!
BLT did have a counter at the entrance asking for people’s email ids…but I feel they could have had a brochure, giving details about the production, and the cast and crew. The announcer did sketch a brief history of BLT, but the cast and crew were never introduced at the end of the play, though everyone was cheered to the echo.
I do feel, however, that "Tenali Raman" being one of their regular productions, the stagecraft could be tightened up a bit. The dialogue was flubbed here and there, and scene changes did not take place as smoothly as they could have. But all these were minor flaws in an evening of entertainment for the theatre-going children of Bangalore. ⊕