Surreal and stylish
Fighting the application of physics and ignoring the hunt for logic is probably the first step towards accepting the experimental Sankar Venkateswaran-directed “Quick Death”. This Thrissur-injected surrealist piece of art, with a Giallo costume twist, is a tangle of layers, light and loss. Beginning with a powerful orchestral piece, “Quick Death” takes off in stylish fashion and marks its spots as one of the few Indian performances of the future. A subtle use of colour and majestic lighting almost make it seem timeless. The dark romance (if any) was oddly touching, and the acting, beautiful.
With unimaginable smoothness, the play grips and chills the viewers, creating an atmosphere unknown to most theatre audiences, giving them a sense of loss and of fear. The beauty of this masterpiece lies in its demand for individual interpretation.
At the end of the play, one question begs to be asked: ‘Was the emperor wearing new clothes at all?' “Quick Death” intentionally defies conventional structure.
Lights, sounds, words and actions get transposed, almost toyed with, in what seems to be a montage of storyboard frames. But, to what end?
Permuting a sequence opens up possibilities. But, when the sequence is distorted beyond recognition, the causality which was to have been the basis of permutation, is entirely revoked. For me, the play's superfluity was tantamount to overkill.
I stared at the emperor for a good 50 minutes — and, I didn't see a patch of clothing on him.
Hard to slot
The play opened with a brilliantly impressive voice emerging from the darkness. The scenes that followed, however, were lost on the audience. The sets were brilliant, and the lights enhanced every movement, creating a very film noir feel. The play was hard to pin down, as it didn't seem to have a particularly identifiable story line that could take the play forward.
‘Quick Death' seemed to be an experiment with theatre gone horribly wrong. The absence of a story line and dialogue took its toll on the audience. The narration was tinged with a preposterous accent that was distracting, to say the least. The only thing that worked for me was the lighting — it created the desired effects with ease. However, that wasn't enough to overshadow the pitfalls of the rest.
Suspension of reality
The questions that nag the “content-obsessed” mind long after the play is over are: What was it all about? Was it a series of images that are probable outcomes/causes of a situation? Was it about multiple narratives unfolding within a story of three people in a time-freeze? Or, was it a metaphor to life itself, of the never-ending games of cat and mouse chase that are an inherent part of relationships?
But, this play is best enjoyed by suspending reality and logic.
Edgy and experimental
“Quick Death” was certainly experimental, and edgily so. The ‘play' (if you may call it that) begins in the end. The character in a film is shot dead. The play pieces together the various possibilities that could result in that end. Is it a woman? Is it money? The door, in itself, is a character. Each time the door opens, a new idea or possibility seems to burst on to stage along with a flood of light. The lighting was exciting and added to the visual drama. The protagonists in the play don't speak, except in one scene. When they did, they could not be heard.
Experimental plays are of two sorts —very good and very bad. Then, there are plays such as “Quick Death” that defy categorisation. The characters were caught in a web between salvation and greed.
The door that was kicked open in most scenes remained shut in the last one. Like an exit was denied. Who was killed and why?
It was a series of meaningless shots questioning your very sense of understanding.
“Quick Death” has lesser ingredients than a Molotov Cocktail. Yet, the result is spontaneous combustion. And the Chennai audience was left punch-drunk. The refrain remained, “It was good, but for heaven's sake, someone tell us what it was about”.
This is a good sign for a festival that caters to audiences addicted to linear narratives and who lean lazily into their chairs as consumers of art. The play jostled our comfort and complacence. Abandoning passivity, it compelled me to actively participate in constructing a script out of the physicality of the proceedings.
There's a gunshot. A woman screams. A door flies open. A body falls. The audience is called upon to rewind and jump-cut this ‘plot' within the space of 51 blackouts with some exquisitely-timed physical gestures in different permutations of sequences until cause and effect, meaning and meaninglessness, coming and going, beginning and end, rationality and absurdity are all turned on their head. It echoes the randomness and irrationality of the structured violence around us which we seem to accept without seeking explanations.
The Fest deserves praise for having the guts to present such a huge risk.