Quite a buzz had been generated on social media, prior to the first staging of the latest production by Theatre Formation Paribartak, Mitrake Niye Ki Korite Hoibe, with friends’ lists and groups coming alive, spreading the word around. It is an emerging trend that Kolkata groups, especially those attempting ‘alternative’ theatre, are almost exclusively depending on web-based channels to reach out to their prospective audience. It is interesting to note that the many benefits of using social media platforms (such as Facebook, WhatsApp) to promote one’s work are far outweighing the rather prickly consideration, even for groups who flaunt their left liberal, anti-capitalist politics, that giant global corporations run these media platforms and provide (often cheaply, sometimes ‘free of cost’) the internet connectivity that these platforms use.
Speaking of politics, a pamphlet, thrust into the hands of the audience trooping into the hall, attempted to fix the political orientation of the performance that was waiting to unfold. I am not sure what compelled Theatre Formation Paribartak and Bajeshibpur Art and Culture to orient the political compass of performance extraneously, without allowing the performance’s politics to reveal itself. The pamphlet mentions that Abhay and Salma are a couple from the Bombay of the 1990’s. The text of the play never makes this explicit – they could have been inhabitants of any urban space in India. But that Bombay bit stuck to my mind and some digging revealed that Mitrake Niye Ki Korite Hoibe is a Bengali translation/adaptation of a Marathi play Hya Saathe Cha Kaay Karaycha by Rajeev Naik. It is entirely due to my lack of education that I was unfamiliar with the name of the playwright and was unaware of the existence of the Marathi play, but could the pamphlet not have been used to slip in an acknowledgment of the provenance of the play? What harm could have accrued from crediting the translator/adaptor (as also the director, set-designer, light-designer, actors) somewhere, in some form? What protocol of postdramatic theatre prevents giving credit where such is due?
— kaahon (@kaahonwall) January 14, 2017
Mitrake Niye Ki Korite Hoibe is indeed an attempt to present postdramatic theatre, as identified by Hans-Thies Lehmann in his seminal study,Postdramatic Theatre (1999; English translation by Karen Jurs-Manby, 2005). It is characterized by what Jurs-Manby succinctly identifies as one of the cardinal features of postdramatic theatre – the removal of the dramatic from theatre. Thus, the performance that unfolds on the stage is stripped of all trappings of dramatic heightening, leaving only an insistently flat performing of a slice of two urban lives, Salma and Abhay, university English teacher and ad-filmmaker respectively, with all the banality, triviality, the small jealousies, obsessions, crises that their lives contain. The performance is designed to frustrate the audience’s expectation of encountering structured plot, climactic moments of high drama, characters loaded with profound signification. Instead, the stark, pitiless glare of the white light that relentlessly exposes the two onstage characters to the scrutiny of the audience, allows its glow to spill over onto the audience area, thereby bringing together characters and audience in a contiguous realm of light, underscoring the idea that when the audience watch the characters on stage they are actually watching themselves – their own banalities, trivialities, jealousies etc. This drawing in of the audience within the zone of performance and compelling them to direct their gaze inwards (and not just outwards, as is the case in conventional theatre) is distinctly postdramatic. The question that arises here, however, is that of the choice of the performance space itself. The proscenium, which inevitably separates/distances performers from audience, is not really suitable for a performance like Mitrake Niye Ki Korite Hoibe which could have worked better in, say,a large drawing room (or a hall) where performance and reception areas areon the same plane, unseparated and more intimate.
The white-box set draws attention to its fictiveness, by focusing on this that the performance space is a construct carved out of the stage area. But certain set-related things stick out like sore thumbs – the wooden stool that certainlydoes not belong to the plush milieu and the unmasked bricks that hold the cloth wall in place, clearly visible from almost all the side seats. However,the absolutely unpardonable problem with the set is that the walls of the white-box only allow only a partial view of the action from most of the side seats. The light designer earns my unqualified admiration for brilliantly managing not to cast a speck of shadow within the performance zone despite all the wattage(s)he used.At the very close of performance, the play of bright incandescence, the warm intimate glow of candlelight and the sudden falling of an impenetrable darkness (which finally disconnects audience from characters, allowing the characters to enter a zone of intimacy which has to remain out of bounds for the audience) is marvelously executed. But this final flourish also marks a switch of the aesthetic code – the dramatic is made to re-enter the theatre and a postdramatic performance ends on a somewhat dramatic high.
The actor essaying the role of Abhay, apart from being acutely self-conscious with his English lines and being happy as a naughty child when mouthing cuss words, manages to convey the somewhat juvenile self-centered obsessiveness of Abhay. The long monologue about his search of self demands much better performance. Generally, he should seriously consider the matter of his voice not reaching all parts of the auditorium evenly. The actor playing Salma turns in a thoroughly refined performance, suggesting a whole range of feelings, emotional states and processes of thought without taking recourse to the known methods of ‘dramatic acting’. Her crying without a reason sequence is both funny and poignant, as it should be.
What was the viewing experience? How will that differ from the experience of re-viewing the play? While experiencing the live performance, I was frequently losing connect with it, as I suspect were many others around me, too. There seems to be a distinct lack of enough directorial investment in searching for ways and means of providing handles for the audience to latch on to. These handles need not be the comfort provided by narrative, the pleasure offered by spectacle, the satisfaction derived out of a cathartic experience. But theatre, especially postdramatic theatre which is essentially a “turn towards the audience” (Jurs-Manby), has to find ways of “turning the behaviour onstage and in the auditorium into a joint text” (Lehmann). This is where Mitrake Niye Ki Korite Hoibe has fallen deficient, whereby many (like me) will perceive a gap in their reception of the live performance, where they might feel rather shortchanged, and a considered assessment of it done later (as in this review), where they might feel better rewarded. The soul of a live performance suffers if while viewing it the audience fail to connect to it; even if subsequent re-view finds redeeming features in the performance, that will not be enough to rescue it from being labelled a failed enterprise.