A satire on our way of life, How to Skin a Giraffe is certainly a must-watch

Jaws dropped a few minutes into How to Skin a Giraffe as Sachin Gurjale, playing King Peter, stripped to golden boxers and held forth on the importance of thinking. For many, this well-crafted and immensely funny scene set the pace for the rest of the play. And for the most part, the production didn’t disappoint.

Perch and Rafiki’s next, after 2010’s Ms. Meena, lived up to the intrigue that its title promised. In the first half, it presented a glimpse of what the best in contemporary English theatre in India could be. Sadly, it hit a speed bump just before the interval and recovered its pace only partially thereafter.

Inspired by German playwright Georg Büchner’s nineteenth century classic Leonce and Lena and an adaptation by Rashmi Ruth Devadasan, the plot is relatable, funny and engaging. The story, once any semblance of one is detected, is predictable. But How to Skin a Giraffe is one of those productions that reiterate the importance of the journey over the destination. And this it does supremely well.

The plot, in a Romeo and Juliet-like fashion, questions the part that destiny plays in each of our lives. Two star-crossed lovers attempt to escape their fates; minus the tragedy, of course. Perch and Rafiki’s collaboration is an outright comedy extending, at times, into the region of absurd drama, but ultimately falling short of it.

Each scene was a carefully conceptualized masterpiece, save for the extended monologue by Princess Pipi which neither justified its length nor its content. However, the production is a must-watch for gems like King Peter’s introductory sequence and Madam Mimosa’s prawn one. Dialogue in Hindi, English and Tamil flowed smoothly and freely, uniformly entertaining. The live background music was a highlight throughout, tapering into obscurity when required and coming to the forefront at other times.

Much like the cast, in fact. Whether lead or supporting, most of the actors excelled. Their choreography and synchronization were faultless. Amjad Prawej as the dog managed to say more with his body than most actors do with their dialogue and Iswar Srikumar as Popo was a treat to watch. The female cast paled in comparison with Ashiqa Salvan often indulging her character in excess. However, her infectious energy did make her an audience favourite.

And that was a necessity in a play which took pot-shots at the very audience that was watching it. In a sense the actors went out of their way to make relevant to the audience the message of the play. From squeamishness over sex to corporate conformism, everyone and everything was fair game.

This is where Perch scored in devising the play, because to engage a 21st century audience in India with a German play written in another century is no laughing matter.

And How to Skin a Giraffe is, unashamedly, just that. A satire on our way of living, it raises important questions of control, power and agency in the guise of a love story. However, much like the emperor’s clothes, literally and metaphorically, it lacks layers. Honestly though, the two-hour production mainly falls short of the gold standard that its first half sets for itself, so watch it for that fleeting glimpse of what could be the future of Indian theatre.