Having watched an excellent play staged by Tadpole Repertory earlier
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I was eager to watch the production of “This Will Only Take Several Minutes”, which this group was staging as a joint effort with Hanchu-Yuei, a Tokyo-based theatre collective. The introduction on the Ranga Shankara website was very intriguing. A play in Hindi, Japanese and English! Off I went, with three friends.
The play is the result of a joint effort between two playwrights, and deals with six characters, who interact with each other (not all at the same time), and introspect at the same time. As the intro says, “They grapple with hunger and sickness, love and solitude, through their shadowy pasts and the foggy present.”
Indeed, the play began with the fog…swirls of semi-opaque smoke that the characters walked through to make their appearance. One by one, they revealed facets of themselves to the audience: the person who, as a construction worker, filled, in error, a sandpit where a child lay hiding, and was sent to jail as a result; a prostitute who is battling AIDS; someone looking for “the legendary salad”, a person from Plus One, a hostess-companion hiring service; a person who seems to be a street-savvy counsellor to the others; someone who is battling his own bad temper and anger against all the world.
Each character proceeded, in a well-choreographed flow of narrative, to reveal his or her thoughts, memories, and expectations of life. What essentially came across was the loneliness people experience in the polluted urban jungle, their hunger for meaningful relationships, and the fact that all such relationships are transitory, and must be made the most of, while they last.
The stagecraft was superb, as was the subtle direction of the play. The cast often wove their way in intricate patterns across the stage; at other times, one or two characters would occupy it. A backdrop with silhouettes, icons and part of the conversations (often on the mobile phone) was a very important part of the play. When the dialogue was in Japanese, sub-titles were provided on another screen behind the backdrop.
The costume design was very well done, too. The costumes were contemporary, and made their own statements; the baby-doll dress of the sex worker, the severe formality of the hired hostess, the casual clothes of the man who receives random calls at 2 am in the night and proceeds to have a relationship with the woman who makes those calls.
The set design and props were minimal. Two mats that were innovatively used to both demarcate space as well as denote the bed that the couple is in, a salad bowl worn as a hat..(and at one point, a knife!) moved the narrative forward. Other likely props were dispensed with…the palms of the actors represented the mobile phone (this being a slowly-emerging symbolism, after the extended-little-finger-and-thumb representing the old telephone receiver.)
However, with all these pluses of technique, I still had a little trouble following the narrative of the play. Not being very avant-garde myself, I need to relate all the actions and words of the characters to a theme, and though, in the main, I succeded, there were still some parts that did not quite gel for me. The rest of the characters dealing with abstract concepts of relationships and loneliness, was something I could relate to; but the quest for a legendary salad did not seem to fit into the narrative as well.
In spite of the seriousness of the play, there were a few comic moments, especially with the street-savvy dialogue of the “counsellor”, and these were executed well.
The music was excellent throughout. It enhanced the mood of the play and was very effective. The singing was haunting, especially the single line that becomes a refrain.
The lighting crew must give themselves a pat of the back, too. Highlighting, leaving areas dark, the colours used, and the way light and shadow (and the mists at the beginning at the end) were extremely well done, and the timing was impeccable. However, the dark shadows of the cast on the screen, which were sometimes used effectively, at other times, distracted us from the action, and some of the messages on the screen were obscured by the actors themselves (in spite of our sitting in the centre…theatregoers in the side seats might have had more problems.) This is something the crew could look at.
Also, very unusually for the Tadpole Repertory, the cast did fumble a line or two; the lapses were quickly recovered, though, and did not affect the play. However, it was unexpected.
Another problem that both my friends and I faced was the fact that the English subtitles were screened up on top, and since the dialogue in Japanese flowed very fast, we were constantly looking up at the screen, instead of at the actors, where our attention should have been. This made us miss the acting to some degree, and some of the unspoken nuances.
The play did work towards a clearly-marked denouement, but at the end, I was left with a feeling of not really understanding what was being conveyed though such good stagecraft. It was an ambivalent feeling to appreciate the technical competence of the cast and yet not being able to grasp the entirety of the play.
The play ended with the swirls of fog and mist flowing over the characters; alas, there was some of that fog in my understanding of the play, as well, and I do not know whether further work on the production will make it less abstract and more appealing. However, as abstract as it was, at least one member of the audience, Updesh Kaur, said that she loved the production; so perhaps my friends, Adnan, Aruna and Raji, and I, were in the minority in the audience.
The brochure for the play was well-designed; but I stil feel that the playwright-director introducing the cast (and crew) to the audience after the play, has an immediacy of connection that just looking at the brochure lacks. It was ironic that after a play which deals with human interactions, the cast and crew were not introduced to the audience!
I would still strongly recommend the theatre goer to watch this play and form his or her own opinions about what it conveys. It’s not often that three languages…two Asian and one Germanic…are used in a theatre production!
This Will Only Take Several Minutes
By Hanchu-Yuei Theatre Collective and the Tadpole Repertory
Presented by the Japan Foundation, New Delhi (Kaoru Miyamoto, Shalini Bisht, Atu Pongener)
Ranga Shankara, Bangalore, Jan 20 and 21, 2017.
Thereafter at Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi, up to Feb 2, 2017.
Written and directed by: Neel Chaudhuri and Suguru Yamamoto
Ayana Shiibashi, Bikram Ghosh, Kan Fukuhara, Mikie Tanaka, Piyush Kumar, Shaik Sheeba
Executive Producer: Misako Futsuki
Production Manager: Jahnvi Sreedhar
Production Co-ordinators (Japan): Hatsumi Kakinoki and Momo Sakamoto
Stage Manager: Chiranjit Das
Lighting Designer: Anuj Chopra
Original Music: Samir Grewal
Publicity Design: Yashas Chandra
Understudies: Abantica Das, Aman Rawat and Devika Rajpal
Rehearsal Translator: Kana Kitaoka
Script Translator: Christoperh J Gregory