Mark Twain : Live in Bombay – A professionally perfect theatre for elites

Posted by Kaahon Desk On April 12, 2019

On the joint venture of ‘Rikh’ and ‘Padatik Theatre’; the English play ‘Mark Twain: Live in Bombay’ written by Canadian playwright Gabriel Emanuel was performed on the Padatik Little Theatre auditorium on 16th February, 2019, directed and solo acted by Shri Vinay Sharma, a distinct personnel of contemporary Kolkata theatre.

The great American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) is famous among the Indian readers for his duology masterwork, namely ‘Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. But he was also a distinct orator and has spoken in various platforms in various countries, and in the process has spent some of his days in India. This information was obscured by time. The special feature of this play; that it brings fourth these little known sides of the famous writer, and in the process, the audience gets a taste of the contemporary past.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

In 1986, Bombay, Mark Twain delivered a speech, and the play is a reconstruction of that speech, bereft of any other storyline, this dialogue is whole of the play. What was actually spoken in the speech is not a documented fact, and much inspiration is drawn from his writings, his biography and travel journals, and newspaper articles by Gabriel in order to recreate the speech. The play is episodic in nature, and it starts with some preconceived ideas of Mark Twain about Bombay and India and some of his neoteric experiences. These exempts are taken from his travelogue ‘Following the Equator’. In the next episode, he touches upon his childhood, growing up in the banks of Mississippi, his first escape from school rules, his dream of becoming a steam-boat driver; and these parts are more or less collected from his autobiography ‘Life on the Mississippi’. In this way the different incidents and apprehensions of the life of the famous writer come up successively- sometimes the subject is aberrant politics, sometimes yellow journalism, and sometimes the artist’s freedom and censorship, and obviously dogmatic religious fundamentalism. A long recitation from Huckleberry Finn touches upon his contemporary American lifestyle, the inhumanity of Slavery, Racism, and ethical dilemma. And all of this is served with his typical experienced, humorous, and quibbling style.

The actor-director Vinay Sharma has given life to the flesh and blood of Mark Twain onstage with uttermost skilfulness. Not only through outer resemblance, but through a detailed adherence and simultaneous application to the writer’s body language, speech, and humorous style; he turns into Mark Twain for an hour and a half. And a striking resemblance with the perceived image of Twain is evident. In the closed sphere of Padatik Little theatre, he takes the emotional control of the audience with ease. At times he presents the audience with a question and sometimes he accepts a volunteer among the audience in the center of attention. The audience laughs with him, thinks with his ques- and in turn, shares an intimate space with him. An emptiness envelops the audience at the end, and a desire for a longer performance presents itself. A naked stage setup with only a table and a chair, and Sudip Sanyal’s appropriate use of lighting accompany the play nicely without any unnatural element of surprise. Between the episodes, the use of Jazz and Blues music retains the American mood beautifully which in turn results in a beautiful recreation of the century-old speech.

Laharir Rajhangsha- A competent staging of a timeless drama

Although some unavoidable questions remain unanswered after such a professional production. The participants of the old lecture were the aristocratic novelty, and high ranking officials and the recreation reflects almost the same class of audience, and it begs the question whether the play is designed for the upper-class elite people only. And whether it is presented in such a way as to entertain the targeted class with Twain’s critical and humorous ways, along with some historical facts, and parallels of the political corruption, artistic censorship, religious dogmatism and unethical journalism of that time. The play does not wish to venture outside the boundary of elite entertainment and does not seek to unsettle the audience. In the past, we have seen ample amount of national and international classic plays of different languages from Padatik Theatre and Vinay Sharma. Despite of being in different languages, the Bengali theatre culture slapped up those plays quite comfortably. But this play surely is positioned for the elite theatre culture which is not quite close to the Bengali theatre practices. The writer Gabriel is famous for writing such plays and his star-studded play ‘Einstein’ is famous for such attributes. This play does not deviate from his style. Although the present altered socio-economic conditions must have given birth to the demands of such elitist plays, and the supply is coming from the foreign play writers such as Gabriel. But whether they are enriching the primary line of Bengali and/or Indian theatre remains to be seen.



Anjan Nandi
A science student, postdoctoral researcher, writer-translator of science oriented popular literature and a dedicated audience of theatre for last two decades, he has observed many changes in Bengali theatre from a very close proximity. He is a regular contributor in Bengali Wikipedia and engages himself deeply in photography and cinema.

Translation: Harit Chowdhury

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