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Creeping up on current values

German playwright Lutz Hubner's Creeps was potent, provocative and potentially explosive

The manic-paced production seems totally pertinent in our age of wannabe sensation-seekers

SOME plays arrive like a blow to the solar plexus, leaving us gasping for air while some have the resonance of a mirror image, reflecting our selves, our times and our preoccupations.

German playwright Lutz Hubner's Creeps staged by The Company Theatre from Mumbai at Ranga Shankara on January 22 and 23, in association with Max Mueller Bhavan, blended these strains into a seamless form that was potent, provocative and potentially explosive.

The production took us by the scruff of our necks and allowed us to settle into a deceptive comfort zone. It then shook us repeatedly by beaming TV-based messages that impact the dreams and value systems of the Generation Next by reflecting the insidious impact of received messages on youth growing up amidst cardboard heroes, and demarcating dreams and reality with an acidic brush that tarnishes even as it illuminates.

Part of the credit for this play must go to Lubner, which premiered at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg in April 2000 (it still refers to the German socio-economic east and the west!). But the major kudos must go to director Atul Kumar for his ideational self-confidence.


Take the plot. It pits three contenders for a TV lifestyle show — Petra (Shubhavi K), Maren (Anuja Ghosalkar) and Lily (Priya Venkatraman) into a cauldron of emotions that peels layers, onion-like, off their lives and plastic self-images. Once their masks have been ripped off, they unite to face their common enemy, the producer Arno (Sameer Sheikh), a disturbing, disembodied voice.

Will the trio compromise when they discover they are being ripped-off, even their private altercations snipped into a trailer for another's show they had hoped to host? At what point does the individual triumph over the social being? Must the all-powerful producer remain king within his domain, where personal integrity counts for nothing? How can the exploited take on an invisible enemy?

With such core issues at stake, the manic-paced production seems totally pertinent in our age of wannabe sensation-seekers, mass-produced mass-communicators, and an MTV generation gearing up for the world as its camera fix. The sets — with shiny plastic streamers as backdrop, freakily daubed commodes as seats, a love-couch for interview sessions — encapsulate tinsel town notions head-on, buttressed by mood lighting that doesn't miss a cue.

Atul's direction was taut, totally in sync with the attitude-sparked mood of the cola-cool generation. That helped to highlight the impact of globalisation on a cross-continental youth pack brought up on Coke and the Big Mac, jeans and Benetton gear.

It mattered little that the characters onstage had German names, or psychological situations that were rather localised. Within a more universal framework, the play threw up Indian identities with ease, the money-driven aspirations of a big brand syndrome, so dizzying to watch during nationwide TV talent hunts.

High voltage

Onstage, Shubhavi's was a high-voltage performance, her vulnerability peeping through each act of bravado, each buoyant on-camera stance. Anuja projected the constantly on-the-edge Maren with confidence, teetering on her heels, shrieking for attention, collapsing into a tai-chi routine to regain her composure.

Priya's rendition seemed a trifle over the top, though she was more convincing once the bubble of her dreams was punctured. Sameer's voice was the perfect counterpoint to the ensemble playing to the audience. It was a magic potion laced with poison, a needle-riddled cloak, and the evil genius masquerading as a godfather, all in one.

When Maren launches into her croak-voiced, off-key song, many of the youth around us laughed aloud. Could that be because we're all party to the great TV show conspiracy? Or because we could see ourselves in her shattered dreams, as they scattered note by note?

No matter the answer, Creeps was a play about the Indian here and now. No one in the audience doubted that for a second.


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