At the charming performance that marked the culmination of Umang’s annual summer workshop, the focus remained on the child artists.

It is a joy to watch children enacting a variety of roles on the stage with enthusiasm and spontaneity. The joy becomes even greater when we witness a production for children by children presented by Umang, founded in 1979 by the late Rekha Jain, the pioneer of children’s theatre movement in Delhi. A participant in her youth in the cultural renaissance heralded by the Indian People’s Theatre Association, she was a total theatre artist endowed with a humanistic worldview. It is no wonder if Umang’s annual theatre workshop during summer culminating in a colourful show becomes a major cultural event in the Capital. Its latest production, “Anokhi Koochi”, was presented at Shri Ram Centre this past week is in tune with the brilliant legacy bequeathed by Rekha Jain who died in 2010.

Written, designed and directed by Rekha Jain as “Malyang Ki Koochi” in 1999, it is based on a Chinese folktale. In its revised form the play is titled “Anokhi Koochi”. It takes the audience to a fantasy world. The hero of this world is a little boy, Malyang, who is forced to gather pieces of wood to make his living. Even in his humble position, he dreams of becoming a painter and is in search of a brush.

One day, while carrying a bundle of twigs, he sees some children playing, and they invite him to join them instead of carrying the load. Saying he can’t afford the luxury of sparing time to play, he asks them to help him get a brush so he can fulfil his ardent wish of painting. But the children express their inability to help him out.

Malyang continues his search. He comes across a painting school owned by a rich landlord. Standing some distance away from the school, he watches children of rich parents being admitted after paying a fabulous amount of money. He plucks up the courage to approach the owner and expresses his desire to join the school.

His wish is disdainfully rejected because he has no money to pay his fees. Insulted and humiliated, Malyang wanders alone, aimlessly. Lo and behold, a divine figure appears before him with a golden brush. The figure hands him over the brush with the advice that he should use it to paint those things which serve the cause of humanity and never use it for selfish purposes.

This leads a new dawn of hope and jubilation; whatever he paints comes to life. He creates forests, birds and rivulets, a world of bliss for children.

The play is directed by Harish Verma who had the opportunity to work under the guidance of Rekha Jain for more than two decades. A many-faceted artist, he is a singer, dancer and a theatre teacher for children. In the production under review,

Verma’s fine artistry charmed the audience that consisted largely of children accompanied by their parents. The story is simple, straightforward and short. While retaining the simplicity of the narrative, the director has infused into it a new life, colour and lyrical beauty. Using a bare stage, the action flows uninterruptedly with children forming a variety of visuals of trees, peacocks and fairies frolicking in the water. He does not want to dazzle the audience by using stylised lighting effects. The focus remains on the child-performers. The colourful costumes add to the visual charm.

The production offers some light-hearted moments and ends with a message of the inevitability of the doom of the mighty, unjust and arrogant at the hands of an innocent child who brings happiness to the children without discriminating on the basis of class, creed or caste.

The moral is implicit in the dramatic action.

What makes this annual event of Umang significant in the world of children’s theatre in the Capital is the conferment of the Rekha Jain Bal Rang Samman to those who have contributed significantly to the growth of the children’s theatre movement in India.

This year the award was given to Barry John for his outstanding involvement in children’s theatre and his pioneering work in the field of theatre-in-education.

Apart from his contribution to the enrichment of children theatre, Barry has achieved eminence as a stage director and film actor. He is the recipient of several awards by prestigious cultural bodies like the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Sahitya Kala Parishad, Delhi, and the Delhi Natya Sangh.