The sixth National Theatre Festival, which starts in Thiruvananthapuram on March 10, features plays that showcase Indian theatre in addition to dramas that are milestones in Malayalam.

The sixth National Theatre Festival that commences on March 10 promises to go beyond being a mere assemblage of plays. Coming at a time when questions are raised about the relevance of theatre in present times, the new aesthetics that emerge with the coming of technology-intense productions and redefining performance spaces, the week-long exercise will traverse new terrain and challenge viewer perceptions.

Striking a balance between the national and the local, the productions promise to be representative of both.

Two categories

A major input this time is the “distinct classification of the 14 productions under two categories, National theatre and Malayalam theatre,” says Abhilash Pillai of the National School of Drama (NSD), the curator of this festival.

Thematically, the plays will dwell on the contemporary but the inroads of technology in theatre will be on display too. “Therefore, ‘modern, contemporary and video-assisted productions' are the three prime features of the plays. Some would tackle a contemporary topic but will not draw on technology, whereas there are plays that are video dependent productions too, ‘Sagarakanyaka' being one such example,” he adds.

A major focus of this festival is on the evolution of Malayalam theatre. While it would be difficult to stage all the major milestones in Malayalam during this week, epochal ones such as ‘Ningalenne Communistakki,' and ‘Avanavan Kadamba' feature in the set.

“This exercise in choosing plays that occupy a prime spot while locating the emergence of theatre in Kerala will continue in the coming years, so as to ensure that the prolific and dynamic growth of the stage in Kerala receives the right attention,” explains Abhilash.

Elaborating on the Malayalam segment M.G. Jyothish, the technical director of the festival, says: “In the context of the questions, whether theatre will survive in the conventional form, or, what are the new aesthetics in the changed circumstances, the showcasing of an early Malayalam play like ‘Ningalenne Communistakki' becomes a manner of tracing the history of the stage and not the evolution of the text.”

When a play like C.S. Deepen's ‘Spinal Cord,' (based on Marquez's ‘Chronicle of a Death foretold'), which made an impact at the major theatre festivals, will aid in reanalysing the path taken by Malayalam theatre, the Marathi play on the Right to Information, staged by a group of villagers who were also subjects of the play, becomes very contemporary.

The inclusion of a play by talented young director Kumaradasan, an NSD product, will mark the beginning of a conscious effort to feature young theatre talent at such meets. The presence of Shila Devi Toijam's ‘Black Orchid' and Dr. Anuradha Kapur's ‘John Gabriel Borkman' will complete the picture of a spread that is truly national in character.

Theatre workshop

A theatre workshop that begins on March 5 is designed to erase the sharp divide that exists between the theory and practice in theatre. Says Jyothish: “The bridging of the two can be achieved through a workshop such as this which is low on classes and more into practising techniques of theatre. With inputs from Prabhat, Abhilash, and Kapila (Koodiyattam practitioner) the students at the workshop will stand to benefit.” The play that takes shape at the workshop finds a slot in the theatre meet.

The National Theatre Festival organised by the Information and Public Relations Department of the State will open with ‘Sagarakanyaka,' an Abhinaya production directed by Jyothish.