Nobody Wins a War
‘The Travelling Circus' drew several reactions in the single hour of performance – I laughed some, I smiled some; but for the most part, there was a lump in my throat . The message “Nobody ever really wins a war” came through loud and clear. I loved that they chose to tell such a politically charged history through the stories of individual lives. The tragedy is uniform everywhere; it becomes irrelevant which side you're on. The play succeeded in restoring meaning to numbers, something the world has become immune to. ‘400 dead' and ‘4000 dead' is today more a matter of zeros than lives.
The play was heavily reminiscent of ‘Mother Courage' in its narration of the pointlessness of war. The interesting use of Brechtian theatrical devices like song, dance, rhythm and rhyme in quick succession helped seamlessly unfold the story. Popular culture references were brilliantly worked in and the humour was spot on.
‘The Travelling Circus' directed by Tracy Holsinger was a remarkable enactment by Mind Adventures Theatre Company of Sri Lanka. Set in the village of Fat Hopes, within a camp for Ignored Defeated People, the performance was interspersed with intense and outstanding lyrical discourse. The theme — the crossfire of civil war — was dealt with in a stirring and emotive manner, bringing tears to our eyes. With a splash of colours and a smattering of dance, this sensational drama introduced us to the Lying Lizard, the Distressed Cow, the kind madam and the boy who spoke in numbers. It was also a dark satire on the homeless and destitute. Masterfully put together, this thought- provoking and unusual play had our hands clenched in suspense and anticipation.
Play without answers
Its re-creation of discomfort and displacement is what makes ‘The Travelling Circus' so successful as a play on the Sri Lankan civil war. From the state of ordered disarray on stage as the play commenced, to the upbeat rendition of songs about refugees, mine fields and missing men, I found myself in a place of great displacement (How can they laugh about death in this way? Do I laugh along?) Behind the enigmatic, sinister humour, and between the most banal of details – such as the price of mangoes – is etched the portrait of suffering. Numbers, pervasively associated with logic, come to represent the meaninglessness of the millions of innocent lives lost. I almost felt voyeuristic, peering in on the boy as he looks for logic amidst the cacophony of lies and destruction. Most importantly, the play didn't attempt to give answers. Instead, it urged the audience to reflect upon war – where people are reduced to numbers – and whether it is possible to really forget what has happened.
The story of a tragedy
The Travelling Circus” is a grim tale of Sri Lanka, channeled by the sombre narration of a band of people, recalling various incidents, and dramatizing them. The actors were intense and credible, and this was probably the most important reason for this play being as realistic as it was. The writing was a blend of realism and neo-realism, having a definite social context. The play often featured angst-laden sarcasm, between the sadness and anger of the characters. It tells the story of a tragedy we all know of and have heard countless times and yet it manages to create an impact. With an interesting mix of characters, real and fictitious, very simple writing and emotive acting, “The Travelling Circus” is a significant addition to the Metroplus Theater Fest.
A moving production
The Travelling Circus is performed in a style created through improvisation as opposed to conventional interpretation. The telling manages to keep audiences mesmerised through its one hour performance with poignancy laced with humour. The possibly controversial subject portrays the reality of war and its human consequences. The production shows the plight of the displaced and destitute in Sri Lanka; a political issue shown through a social context. The play uses an interesting device in the Question Tree to remind the audience that there is never a reason to stop asking questions. Sets were minimal and stark forcing the audience to pay attention to the actors . With characters representing internally displaced people in Sri Lanka, bureaucracy and the media, the play offers two conclusions . One a likely reality and the other emphasising the message that hope will survive even through the worst situations and that the nation will survive. The music entwined with the performance drew tunes and lyrics from various popular musicals adding diversity. . Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the politics of war and human displacement would have been moved by this production.
Dhiya Susan Kuriakose Annanagar East
The world of the displaced
How do you explain in a hundred words what the play encapsulated in three? ‘The Travelling Circus' displays the world of the internally displaced people (IDPs) in the perpetual Civil War in Sri Lanka. The narrator-director Tracy Holsinger calls them the ‘Ignorant Defeated'. We witness Mike Masilamani's short story translated into a play, featuring scenarios wrought with irony . It has the rawness of a street-play in set-detail, so its lighting and projections prove to be welcome enhancements. It's well-choreographed, adequately enacted and sincere .
Beyond the Brechtian motif, beyond its super-sarcastic tone and the resounding emptiness , beyond the pop music and parody is the dreadful, unmistakable plight of people crying themselves hoarse. ‘The Travelling Circus' is the voice of those caught in the crossfire. And after the hour and a standing ovation, you wonder what's more horrific – the fate of these people, or the fact that they've reconciled with it.
Karthik Purushothaman Mugappair West
Devised cleverly, The Travelling Circus could have been a vibrant play metaphorically representing the evils of civil war, had it not been for some basic technical errors made by the cast and crew. Firstly, lighting cues were, for the most part, off. There were moments when all the spotlights were on for no reason, and at other times the performing actor was not lit. Another reason the play failed to have impact was the drab story telling of the narrator who seemed unable to convey enthusiasm through her voice or body. Some actors looked dispirited and weren't audible , despite the mikes, while others valiantly struggled to balance out the uneven energy. Overall, a play that could have been very effective, considering the weighty and essential message it carried, but wasn't , because the players seemed bogged down by the heaviness.
A keen interrogation
The Travelling Circus is a keen interrogation of the most disturbing consequences of war – loss and displacement. The strength of the play was in the context it wove. Without direct description, which often goes against the theatrical impetus to show and not tell, the stark sets and the simplicity of the moving storyline evolved the circumstances with quiet dissemination. However, the narrator's constant interruptions took away from the growing momentum and were more distracting than enlightening.
The play, with its self-consciously ambiguous plot, falls cleanly into the genre of magic realism. Like the art that it represents, it delves into the very human need to escape into subaltern realities as a defense mechanism. Devised with a young, energetic cast and just a touch of dark humour, the play alternated between a colourful pageantry of pop culture references, anthropomorphic characters, song-and-dance routines (and cricket!) and a sharply dissecting statement that, after all these years, it is still civil blood that makes civil hands unclean.
Sixty minutes of power packed performance by nine agile, energetic and versatile performers.
The oxymoron “refugee party” epitomizes the summary of the play. The props (including the dust on the floor, mind you) were brilliantly used to make the stage pleasantly shabby. The animated dialogues of lizard and mynah were interesting as well. The actors knew it all – singing, dancing, choreography and rhythm. The cleverly interspersed, vocally orchestrated jingles were sweet to the ears. At the same time the hue and cry of the actors and the dirge-like aftermath of the bombing were frightening.
The scenes involving the cricket match and live coverage of the refugee camp are worth mentioning The lighting to show day, night and fire was appropriate A neat narration with a simple and straightforward theme. No wonder, “The Traveling Circus” is going places.
This was my first English play. The play kept us completely engrossed for sixty minutes. I had ppecial appreciation for the scenes where they enacted the chaos of war so realistically with no artificial background music. With only eight members on stage, the play was an balanced of humour and emotion with a striking message at the end.
Guru Revathi B, Adayar
Keywords: The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest 2011