Drama students presented “Macbeth” in Therukkoothu style with telling effect

The second year students of the National School of Drama displayed a rare fluency performing William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in Therukkoothu style, a traditional theatre form of Tamil Nadu. Staged at the Abhimanch auditorium this past week, the play was transformed into an experience of total theatre with distinct Indian colour. In this transformation the original script is followed with fidelity. This is not a simple, direct and straightforward theatre, a characteristic of our folk and traditional forms, but an intricate, complex and intensely dramatic theatre which steadily increases its momentum and moves to a climax that leaves the audience stunned to see the fall of a great warrior because of the morbidity of his wild ambition.

As a result of unity between content and form, the production leaves a deeper impact on the audience evoking a sense of terror watching the bloody struggle for power and throne. A lot of creative effort must have gone into perfecting the folk form to be made the vehicle to convey a world classic.

Director K.S. Rajendran, his team of artists and students went to the village in Tamil Nadu which is the home of this living art form. A theatre workshop was conducted under the guidance of the eminent Guru Purisai Sambanda Thambiran for one-and-a-half months. During this period students interacted with the traditional performers, watched their performances and learnt the technique of presentation. Essentially a musical theatre with dancing and singing its integral part, the form has flexibility. It could be staged as street theatre or on a makeshift stage.

Staging a play in Koothu form on a proscenium stage was a challenge for director Rajendran. To achieve the intimate theatre viewing experience, Abhimanch was given a new shape with slight alteration of seating. Near the downstage area, multi-level platforms were raised to seat the audience. Close to the upstage, a raised space was created which was occupied by musicians. Between the audience and the musicians there was enough space for the performers.

True to the form, in this “Macbeth” there is a sutradhar, narrator, who tends to be a comic actor as well as a commentator and often takes part in the action. The singing and dancing part dominates the show.

Another challenge to adapt the content to the total theatre form was to create a fresh Hindi translation mostly in lyrical mode to be set to music. Depending on the Hindi translation by Rahguvir Sahay, V.K. Sharma, a veteran theatre director and writer, has composed a number of lyrics, while some were written by students. There are some lyrics in Tamil written by S.M. Venkadam. The music score is by Ajay Kumar. The costumes are designed on the pattern of Koothu theatre style.

Full of energy, the performers revealed the great tragedy through their vigorous dances, singing to the rhythmic beat of instruments. A small screen held on either side by performers used to introduce characters evokes the element of suspense. On the bare stage the story of slaughter of men unfolds in a seamless manner. With the device of subtle lighting, an atmosphere of night is created because the murders take place at night. The director, musicians and performers create an ambience evoking a vision of terror, fear of death, dreadful image of a dagger. One of the highlights of the production is the way the breathtaking sword fighting scenes are choreographed.

The entire cast gives an inspired performance remarkably subtle and full of energy. Nehpal Gautam as Kattiyakaran (sutradhar) gives a lively performance. Rajib Kalita as Macbeth brings alive the emotional complexities of his character who has turned a killing machine with intensity. Towards the end, his Macbeth realises the absurdity of human destiny conveyed, in the famous lines “Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player…” Suman Patel as Lady Macbeth makes a frighteningly dreadful image who forces her husband to commit the heinous crime of murdering Dunkan, king of Scotland and his benefactor. In the sleepwalking scene Lady Macbeth is metamorphosed into an image of irredeemable guilt, wandering in a lost world from which sleep has vanished. Oasis Sougaijam as Young Siward in the sword battle scene with Macbeth displays an excellent skill like someone trained in martial art.