Theatre Professionals, a part of the Drama School, Mumbai, staged “The Dragon”, translated from the Soviet author and playwright,
<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evgeny_Shvarts”> Evgeny Shvarts </a>
This is a play written in 1944.. The excellent translation, bringing the action forward to a contemporary time, was done by Harsh Khurana.
As a reviewer, I usually watch the first show. This time, for a change, I decided to watch the last one, and see how the successive stagings had honed the production values.
A film of the play was made in 1988. I thought it would be interesting to watch how germane the concepts of totalitarianism, first expressed more than sixty years ago, are to today’s world. And sure enough….the ideas and the concepts elicited in this play are are applicable today as they were then.
The plot of the play, in the words of the Wiki entry: “This, the most ‘grown-up’ of Shvarts’ plays, is a political satire aimed at totalitarianism in all forms. The plot is based on the attempt of the hero, Lancelot, to liberate people in a land suffering under Dragon’s brutal rule. But his efforts meet with resistance, since most of the people have gotten used to the Dragon and considered his methods, though harsh, the only possible way; their souls become, in a way, crippled with this inability and unwillingness to resist.”
The cast of the show were obviously seasoned professionals; from the sinuous, utterly-feline movements of the cat in the basket as we entered the auditorium, to the precise choreography of the group movements, everything was done in well-practised and fluid style. The chants, the dialogue…all were delivered without a fumble. In this sense, the production spoke of hard work and unrelenting rehearsals.
In fact, it was not just the cast, but all other parts of the production that were outstanding. The lighting; the music, both taped and live; the minimal props (mainly in the form of netting that divided areas of the stage) and the costume design….all these were very impressive. Scene dissolved into scene seamlessly, and even when props (such as discarded clothes) were collected, it was done in an unobtrusive manner. Definitely a theatre group that has got the art of staging right. From these perspectives, definitely, the difference between this professional show, and the many amateur ones that I have seen, was amply clear.
But….and I have to come to the “but” part. I do not know how long the original play runs; but 120+ minutes was definitely too long for this one. To use a bad pun, when a 10-minute interval was announced, I did wonder to myself, “How long will this drag on?” As far as I could see, the tension had built up, and the denouement had come and gone. Perhaps the ten-minute break allowed the perspiring actors to freshen up a bit, and change costumes…but it did not come at any psychologically important part in the play, and served only to sever the play into two rather disconnected parts, the latter having not much punch.
The play also seemed to try and underline ideas to the point where it went from satire to parody. The basic concept, that people can be mentally enslaved to the point where they accept tyranny as a necessary part of life, was well-made, but then stressed a little too much. I did feel that with tighter editing and scene-staging, the play could have been shortened without losing its impact…indeed, the effect was diluted by the length of the show.
To get back to the good things…..Like all good theatre groups, the cast used the entire auditorium as part of the stage. Every audience feels more involved when they perceive themselves, in some way, as part of the “action”. The superb acoustics of the Ranga Shankara auditorium, and the lithe movements of the cast, helped a lot in this.
I must, once again, touch upon the creativity of the costumes in the play. In delicate pastels with the Dragon wearing a partial mask and many of the cast wearing mime-like make-up, the effect of a “fairy tale” was enhanced. Like all fairy tales, this one, too, had a message that does not seem to have lost its relevance over many decades..and probably will not, as long as the human condition remains the same…when the soul is suppressed, one not only accepts tyranny, but actually welcomes it as a kind of release from responsibility, and one didactic figure succeeds another in the same mould of sycophancy, oppression, and false love for the leader. As one who has seen this culture of sycophancy spread rapidly in our land, I was able to relate completely to what a Soviet author and playwright said many years ago.
The direction was superb, in that it was not obtrusive at all. The mark of a good director is when the major part of the work has been done at the rehearsals, and the final showing requires only a few deft, light touches.
The excellent brochure brought out by the troupe was another bright point in the production. The cast and crew were clearly mentioned, and the “fold-out” design truly “opened up” the production to each member of the audience, with photographs of the cast, and a short note about the Drama School, Mumbai. A small flyer advertising their one-year certificate course in acting and theatre-making was also given out.
I wish, like other theatre groups, they’d also included a small tear-off where an audience member could give his/her contact co-ordinates. I find that this establishes a good contact for feedback from the audience to the group, and builds a strong base of interested patrons.
Since the group took so much trouble to list the cast and crew, I will do the same (which is why I have not mentioned individual names so far). In all, “Dragon” was well-crafted, serious theatre,hampered only by its length, and (to me) the over-sress on the message. I only wish that the cast an crew had been introduced after the production; but given the fact that the audience was already restive after a 2-hour show, perhaps skipping this was understandable.
“Dragon”: A play by Evgeny Shvarts.
Directed by Tushar Pandey.
Translated by Harsh Khurana (into Hindustani)
Produced by Theatre Professionals
Running time: Approx 120 min, iwth a 10-minute break
Billi: Himani Pant
Hero: Roshan Mathew
Danav 1/Townsperson: Abhinav Grover
Danav 2/Townsperson: Nikhil Murali
Danav 3/Townsperson: Kaizad Gandhi
Mayor/Townsperson: Kartavya Anthwaal Sharma
Mayor’s Son/Townsperson: Kanan Puri
Pyaari/Townsperson: Srishti Shrivastava
Pyaari’s Father/Townsperson: Niketan Sharma
Townsperson/Sentry/Girlfriend 1/Drover 1: Shivam Dev Singh
Townsperson/Drover 2/Gardener/Mother: Mandira Bahl
Townsperson/Girlfriend 2/Drover 3: Aakash Prabhakar
Townsperson/Drover 1/Hawker/Girlfriend 3/Jailer: Ishan Khanna