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A classic beginning

"Electra" displays young talent.

SINCE HE launched Masquerade with a production of ``Electra," KK has travelled many roads, mounted many productions and celebrated the group's tenth year in performance by setting up and launching Landing Stage, a youth theatre group, again with a production of ``Electra," Hofmannsthal's version of Sophocles's Greek play.

The group, with an average age of 17 is drawn primarily from among senior school students and evolved out of a theatre workshop KK had conducted this summer. The play they presented to the public last week showed young calibre and what can be put together in a fortnight when there is enthusiasm and commitment.

``Electra" is the all-time beautiful classic from the 5th century BC. Sophocles's plays stand out for their serenity and charm that come from the triumph over sufferings, for their amazing characterisation and poetic style. They told stories about extraordinary people, about royalty and presented them as larger than life.

Electra, in this play, seeks justice and swears to avenge the murder of her father, King Agamemnon, at the hands of her mother. She and her two siblings declare war also on her mother's lover for whom the dark deed was done. The plot also deals with the consequent realignments of power.

Was ``Electra" the right choice for a production by 17 year olds? The answer is yes and no. It is an unusually heavy play for young shoulders, especially because we are dealing with a generation, which has chosen to avoid like the plague anything classical. It was obvious that many among the group had no clue as to how charged the play they put together was. Nor were they aware of the implications of playing characters `larger than life.' Electrifying language and poetry were often lost in delivery.

On the other hand, KK could not have thought of a better play to launch Landing Stage. There is no better way to learn than from the masters and to allow the greater reality to impact on you. It is not very often that our young can come by such opportunities. Older groups and professional productions can ill afford the risk of giving the young and the uninitiated a chance to get involved in productions such as these.

Landing Stage impressed with their sense of seriousness and commitment. They were well organised and professional in their approach and seemed to have gained much from the short summer workshop.

The sets, keeping to the Greek tradition, were bare and stark, except for the wings, which were attractively covered with newspaper, saving cost.

Music scores were very well chosen and suggested the strength and beauty of the bygone era. Lights were functional and well executed.

Costumes and makeup, however, raise a few questions. The flowing Grecian drapes are very easy to manage. There was no attempt at replicating that. What we had instead was a mixture of different styles, with no discernible pattern emerging. Some of the actors wore masks; others had their faces painted. Electra looked more like an English football hooligan heading for Euro 2004. There was no expression visible on her face. What saved her was her ease with her lines and her feel for poetry.

In Athens when plays were performed, all actors wore masks and shoulder pads to make them look like semi-gods, who strode the earth and whose lines resonated in the amphitheatre. But then one remembers that 17 year olds in Athens would not have risen to the challenge in the way Chennai's very own Landing Stage did.


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