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A new trend in theatre

``Blithe Spirit," staged by the students of Stella Maris College, showed what talent was all about, writes ELIZABETH ROY.

Bridging two worlds... completely done by students. — Pic. by Vino John.

SPONSORSHIP AND big money have become the only hub that makes any student activity possible in our city colleges these days. Capitalising on talent, creativity, commitment and hard work is becoming an unfashionable concept. There seems to be little value attached to using activities like theatre as a learning experience, or as a means to evolving a perspective. It is from this vantage point that one would like to review, assess and appreciate ``Blithe Spirit," which went on the boards from Stella Maris College at the Museum Theatre last week. Barring direction from Yog Japee, the production was a wholly student venture. While not compromising on quality, the team scaled down the production both in terms of cost and technical gimmicks. They designed and executed their own sets and lights, cut their own sound track, designed and stitched their costumes and actually made most of their props. They were equally fortunate in having found a director who pulled out all stops to support them in mounting a ``low-cost student production.'' He merely strengthened the play with his meticulous choreography and sleek presentation.

They strayed away from the mainstream in choosing a play written in 1941, a light-hearted comedy, very literary and witty. Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth invite a local medium (and a nut to boot) Madame Arcati over for a seance in the hope of finding material for the novel he is writing. The evening materialises his dead wife Elvira, visible and audible only to Charles, generating in the process most of the comic situations of the play. Elvira tries to resolve the bigamous predicament by ``arranging" for Charles to join her in the realm of the dead. Instead Ruth gets killed. The two ghost-wives bond with each other and trash the house while Charles packs and moves out.

Yog, who always looks for intriguing twists and complicated turns in his theatre work, stood ``Blithe Spirit" literally on its head to suit his style of work. He laid down as the basis of the play the differences in time values between the world of the living and that of those who have passed over. On this he superimposed Charles as a traveller, trying to cope with the unresolved issues of his journey. Elvira also has as many issues unresolved. The two have to level with each other, particularly with regard to their amorous extra-marital exploits. Ruth who is forced to witness the exchange gets drawn into the dialogue.

Yog places the entire play as happening in Charles' mind, which gradually cracks up from the strain. He fleshed out the play further by choreographing a half a dozen spirits in, balancing the worlds on either side of the vale. Sir Noel Coward, the playwright, clearly meant for Elvira to sweep the play and that is what Geetanjali Sriram did. She evolved a real-life Elvira and totally identified with her. She seemed most comfortable on stage. Pratyusha Gupta as Ruth, as a totally different second wife, was a perfect foil and came through effectively in her attempt to contain her frustration and somehow save her marriage. She, over the years, has evolved into a steady, unwavering actor. Susheel Gandhi as Charles did a fine job and one was almost unaware of the gender barrier she had to cross to present the role. However, towards the end of the play her acting seemed weakened and a little confused.

Yet another role, small but delightfully well done was that of Dr Bradman (Neha Mehta). Madame Arcati (Shanas K. S.) was a larger than life presence and extremely buoyant and most uninhibited. Three other parts also well done were those of Mrs Bradman (Mallika Sen), Edith (Deepali Gupta) and Daphne, the young spirit (Sonya David). Backstage work gave the production its backbone. Sets designed and executed by Nasra Roy, Lavanya Ravikanth and Amy Thomas were simple, elegant and very neatly executed. A white-textured screen flanked by bamboo-slated screens formed the backdrop. Running downstage to the left was a segment of French windows with arched stained glass work and light white curtains. It defined space and suggested comfortable interiors and the wispiness of the other world. Furniture and other items moving ghost-like on invisible fishing lines were neatly executed and added a nice dramatic touch. Costumes from Thushanthi Selvarajah and Susan George were well designed, intricately detailed and separated most effectively the two worlds, with additional support from make-up.

Clothing a ghost is not an easy act. Batool Lehry and Amritha Swamy successfully played with a colourfully elaborate lighting design. A very definitive sound track (Bindhumalini and Gayatry Koshy), dominated by the keyboard, helped pull the play together.

The only flaw, which weakened the play, came from the group's handling of Coward's language, which is intensely literary and highly lyrical. In the theatrical orbit Coward graced, he was termed ``The Master''. Every language has a cadence peculiar to it, which gives it its feel, flow and texture, without which the words merely roll out, lacking the spirit and the drama.

To read between the lines and communicate the meaning to the audience a more sensitive approach in dealing with language might have been necessary. Stella Maris College has set a new trend, which hopefully will catch on not just among colleges but also in our amateur circles.

They have shown that good theatre needs only a commitment to giving of one's best and unmercifully exploiting talent and creativity, which the young have in abundance.

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