“Bring Down the Walls” deals with real and metaphorical walls barricading freedom.
“Bring Down the Walls” intends to make theatre spectacular. Drama swoops out of auditoriums to smell the air and turns gargantuan. The stage is set on the lawns of Mapple Emerald, a step away from Gurgaon, and the giant space accommodates a spot for musicians while the rest of the stage is layered into an artist's den, a bedroom, a living space and at times an empty arena.
“Bring Down the Walls” is the second ambitious project from Rahul Pulkeshi and his iDreamtheatre. Directed by N. Kumar, the production thrives on its “concert theatre” identity. A live band rocked through the narrative with 26 numbers from Pink Floyd's eternal album “The Wall.”
Theatre and music, for Pulkeshi, doesn't mean anything out of the ordinary. “It is total theatre. The genre has always been part of Indian folk,” he says. All the gems from “The Wall” are belted out by the band as the narrative chugs along. “A lot of situations in the play come with music,” says Pulkeshi. Be it “Brick in the wall”, “Goodbye blue sky” or “Don't leave me now” — the numbers stitch together situations.
Pulkeshi says the songs were meant to be the “soundtrack, nothing else.” Quaintly, the songs end up being the soul, garnering cheer from the audience.
The narrative, meanwhile, knocks at the idea of freedom in contemporary society. Debates that have rocked the headlines over the past years make the sub-texts of the storyline. A lesbian couple fights society's stigma as well as the disbelief / dejection of parents. An artist meets her moment of inspiration but predictably her masterpiece is an insult to the cultural fabric of the society. “The walls” are real, metaphorical and imagined.
The fragmentary stories embellish the main narrative but rarely veer away from the predictable. The production opens with the protagonist, often addressed as the voyeur, played by Tom Alter, waiting to meet his friend/beloved after 30 years. The voyeur, rarely called by his name Ruben, is a creature of the times. The rebellious college-goer of the 1970s who blew to the wind ambitions of material success, he lived quenching only his inner thirst.
The storyline falls prey to the clichéd, when the voyeur is portrayed the typical bright star who withered away his life. Here, the voyeur is an Oxford topper who lived swinging between the jailhouse and the slum, to which Priya (played by Lushin Dubey) adds the brothels.
To Priya, friend/beloved, Ruben had “disappeared” one fine day, while for him, keeping up with her desires for “urban” pleasures was impossible. “You believed in success, power and money,” he says.
The sparks of the old chemistry are still alive and a hitherto hidden truth shocks the voyeur out of his self-confessed life of “blasé self gratification.”
The truth unknown — a son cast away — considers himself the product of a “failed miscarriage” and is at war with himself, society and individual dreams. He is the “custodian” of culture and inflicts harm on anyone crossing the line.
The lines of conflict are clear and Pulkeshi says, “It is a reflection of what is happening in society.”
Among the flurry of scenes, music and maddening lights, are poignant scenes. A memorable one is when Priya's husband, the businessman who has fallen on bad times, recalls the wilting relationship with his wife. Love has dried up, she turned grey and he cold.
Yet “Bring Down the Walls” constantly makes you aware that it doesn't believe in subtleties. The obvious, like Priya's daughter being lesbian, is screamed to the world, when it was clear all along. It tends to ram, unless of course the creator/director intended it as coming out of the closet.
The set, which anyway was meant to be so many spaces, had its limitations. Alter often leapt over chairs to get to his seat. The lights remained belligerent, often making it a rock concert space.
Alter's voyeur fell into a pattern, loud and theatrical, while Priya never rattled Dubey out of her comfort zone. The support cast was competent, but the highpoint was actors who were singers. “It was a struggle to find actors who could sing. We finally found our cast four months ago,” says Pulkeshi.