Players carry the audience with them
"Treasure Island" ... full of racy scenes. Pic. by V. Ganesan
``The Boardwalkers" happened 15 years ago. It was a gutsy venture from a bunch of twenty something old theatre enthusiasts, who dominated the Loyola Theatre Society. They staged plays, most of them big budget and enjoyed support from the youthful section of the public. They also indulged in event management, promotional shows, and even films.
Last week they turned another corner, with two short plays back to back, at the Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium. It was incidentally also to launch The Boardwalkers Theatre Foundation and the two plays were meant to give the city a sample of what is on the anvil.
The evening opened with ``Treasure Island" by Geoff Bamber, spoofed further and directed by Freddy Koikaran. The play was a number of racy scenes strung together by a narrator (Pravin Bharadwaj). He did a good job of it, and reached out to the audience successfully. The rest of the play seemed at times like a cut and paste version of a pantomime and at other times like caricatures that had gone wrong. Most of the cast did not understand what the director had in mind. They, in fact, failed to spoof it.
After the intermission it was ``Hamlet," directed by Michael Muthu and enacted by Rohit Bhat, Faheem Moosa and Hariharan. Those in the audience who had enjoyed The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) by Australia's The Reduced Shakespeare Company a year and a half ago got somewhat apprehensive.
Our fears were totally unfounded. The Boardwalkers held their own and handsomely.
Michael Muthu for the 45 minutes of performance chose the second half of `Hamlet.' He did a great job with the editing and at no point did one get the feeling that there were 37 more plays and 14 sonnets to the script.
The script is insanely funny and very interactive. In fact it can fall flat on its face if the audience fail to cooperate. The cast (all three equally talented) succeeded in drawing out the audience totally. With great gusto they participated in analysing Ophelia's psyche.
A young lady and a gentleman were dragged on to stage to play Ophelia and her super ego. The rest of the audience was divided into three sections to play her ID, ego and what was left of the super ego and given their lines and moves. The crowd built up tremendous hysteria and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Set design from Michael Muthu (for both the plays) stemmed from well painted backdrops and three-dimensional cut-outs of ships, trees and shrubs. In `Hamlet,' the royal ramparts in grey stone with doors leading off the stage was quite a beauty. Lights from Saurabh and Muthu were sensitive and aesthetic.
Sound design and music, as expected from Freddy Koikaran, was most enjoyable.
With Spoof-It The Boardwalkers Theatre Foundation is offering the city a membership for Rs 600 a year that entitles them to a minimum of six shows and the best seats in the auditorium. They are also suggesting that overstressed corporate types should use this opportunity to take in comedies as therapy! The trend initiated by the Madras Players Theatre Club many years ago, is finally catching on. Now we have three groups, Evam being the third, who are offering a minimum of six shows each a year and if we add on the other groups and out of town productions, we are talking about more than two shows a month for us. That really is good news. The other positive development is that more groups are beginning to look at theatre as an economically viable proposition.
However, the audience support will depend on the quality of the productions and whether they are getting their money's worth. Chances are that they will not be indulgent with productions like `Treasure Island,' which gave first timers an opportunity to try their skill and aptitude. It is necessary for newcomers to be trained before they are put on stage.
And when they are, they should initially share the stage with the more experienced who can cover for them and carry the audience. On the other hand, if the Boardwalkers can deliver the quality and substance of `Hamlet,' their membership will swell to pack multiples of the two shows that ran last week.
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