Yatrik’s presentation of “Abducting Diana” was an enjoyable adaptation, even as its politics were trigger happy.
It’s hard not to like a Dario Fo play, even for those who don’t love his politics or the way he expresses it. His 1986 play “Il Ratto Della Francesca”, adapted in English as “Abducting Diana”, is particularly challenging due to its length, chaos and the number of actors on stage. Yatrik Theatre lived up to the challenge in an Indian adaptation of the play directed by eminent dramatist and film artiste Avijit Dutt.
The plot revolves around the kidnapping of a feisty media baroness Diana Forbes O’Brien (Kriti Vij), secretly arranged for by her mother (Vani Vyas) and estranged husband (played by the director). In the farcical comedy of errors that follows, it is revealed that the kidnappers have actually captured her body double, cheekily named Kriti Pant (after a well known contemporary theatre person).
Fo’s dialogue is, of course, loaded with socialist opinion on tabloid culture. Even in a pre-coital scene between Diana and her paramour Kevin (Keshav Moodliar), she says: “The public are repressed! Take away their jobs, their livelihoods — they don’t know how to react. Marching and protesting just aren’t Indian. So we provide a release. Money worshippers, petty bureaucrats and sex scandals...”
Her lines are long, yet Kriti handles them with dexterity. Her character is one who can talk anyone’s pants off and sell them the moon. She makes the whole act look easy. Despite the duration of the play (more than two hours) and her almost constant presence on stage Kriti maintains her note and doesn’t tire the audience. Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem to tire herself either.
The kidnappers — Sudeep Singh, Varoon Anand and Shekhar Murugan — are a hilarious bunch. In British adaptations of the play, the kidnappers wear masks of politicians. That seemed to be the attempt here, too. But, except Sudeep’s mask of Manmohan Singh, I couldn’t identify the others. Sudeep has a strong stage presence, which allows the viewer to isolate him during his dialogue.
Varoon also gives a memorable performance of a goofy gangster who ends up as a captive of Kriti, who he is meant to guard. Varoon, who has his roots in Panamanian community theatre, has this very instant ironic sense of humour which works particularly well for this play.
After Diana’s and Kriti’s diabolical designs unfold, Varoon says: “I have seen heaven! I’ve reformed! I’ll no longer pedal the establishment’s inane sensationalist garbage that subdues and emasculates our people. I’m going to work for the cause...” To which Shekhar asks: “You are going to work for ‘The Hindu’?”
The best performance, however, in my opinion, was Vani Vyas’. She plays the eccentric mother of Diana. Ostentatious, funny and bluntly sarcastic, Vyas’ performance was a treat. It subtly infuses that intangible element that elevates the stature of the play with respect to contemporary work on Fo that Delhi has seen. Indeed the city has seen a lot of Fo. “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” has literally been done to death. Its Hindi adaptation, “Operation Three Star”, is so popular that the operation to execute Afzal Guru too was ironically given the same name. “The Tale of a Tiger” and Fo and Franca Rame’s “Orgasm” have also played to packed halls in the recent past.
In the past Avijit Dutt has successfully handled work on the press like “Breaking News” in 2009. He also acted in the film “Peepli Live” in 2010. In this play he successfully controls the anarchy that comes with a Fo script and creates an excellent comedy. It isn’t rushed and he gives the satire time to strike, without for a moment boring the audience.
But the attention he and his cast give to the political parts of the play seemed as if they were the sideshow. It was almost apologetically revolutionary.