Play: ‘Varinia’ is an attempt to tell the story of Spartacus through his love

With Varinia, the tale of Spartacus unfolds in a natural setting. The latest play on the slave gladiator Spartacus and his love Varinia opened in the scenic quadrangle of the Malabar Christian College. Presented by Sunday Theatre and Red Youngs, the play directed by youngsters Emil Madhavi and Roshni Swapna, sought to give a contemporary twist to Spartacus.

Quelling the idea of the proscenium and the audience, Varinia blended the two. Audience walking to the scene of play was greeted by hassled women running out, while the niches in the passages were taken up by groaning slaves. Varinia works up an eerie mood and creates discomfort almost instantly.

A natural ambience

The set is empty except for the canopy of trees. A make-shift war tank is dragged in at points and the only property that stays is a mere stool. A virtue of the play is its live music in most parts. A rattled audience is soothed by the tunes of the flute and the violin. The lights remain harsh — a sharp yellow.

Spartacas is living the last night of his life. He is mellow, set for the gladiator’s fight till death, the next day.

The conflicts are within, debated by him and his alter ego. It is of a life they have no right over and about battles they don’t want to engage in. Enter Varinia or rather dragged in by the Roman soldiers, the virgin to please the gladiator before he steps into the arena.

With Varinia, the makers attempt to shift focus on the slave woman who bore Spartacus’ child. She is portrayed as the one who lived and raised a child as Spartacus fell after a spate of wins over the mighty Roman army. To make it “her story”, the script here has Varinia giving birth to a girl as Spartacus himself derides men who only fight and kill.

Scripted by Civic Chandran, Varinia, as an attempt is earnest, with largely amateur actors. But it too often falls prey to pontification, an easy and ineffective tool in plays. Sermonising kills the punch and here the actors often go on a rant giving lessons in brotherhood and the rise of the suppressed. Further, a barrage of shrieks, grunts and screams doesn’t necessarily translate to an effective recreation of violence. Subtlety and silence are potent and Varinia could do well to explore it.