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Props and performers share centrestage

Not an easy concept to translate, "Platform" stood out for excellent histrionics and beautiful sets, says ELIZABETH ROY.

"Platform" ... an interesting metaphor — Pic. by S. Thanthoni

"WE HAVE been at it without a break for 50 long years!" The Madras Players opened their golden jubilee year of celebrations with a production of Shreekumar Varma's "Platform," directed by their founder-member Yamuna N. S.

In "Platform," Varma played around an interesting idea, of perceiving life through the lens of what happens on a railway platform. The play uses the railway platform as a metaphor for life. You meet some strange people out there. You interact with them, unavoidably. In between, you spend time, lots of time, just waiting, for things to happen. The moral: Never take anything for granted because you are almost always surprised.

It is not an easy concept to script. Within the time is available between trains, the playwright has to create scenes, build and develop characters and inter-relate and mesh the truncated segments. Where the script was strong the director and the actors had a ball. Whenever the script weakened the team chugged on uphill. As usual the production showed Yamuna's eye for detail. She brought together the best cast that Chennai could offer and an incredible production team.

Bhagirathi Narayanan who played the mother in three different configurations of passengers simply stole the show. Yamuna brought out in her a range that audiences hadn't seen her do in a while. Thrice over within an hour she changed her body language, her voice quality, her age and her personality. Her experience and understanding of theatre was a joy to respond to.

There were two equally good performances from Saurabh Ahuja, very controlled and well delineated. Faheem Moosa as the husband (twice over) lit up the stage with energy and life that had the audience sitting up, ready to be tickled. Kalpana Komal as the wife gave him good support. Vidyuth Sreenivasan's vegetarian refreshments stall keeper rose to expectations.

Most unobtrusively he built his life around his little kiosk, even going to sleep on the air-pillow he failed to sell.

It was good to see Asim Sharma back on the Chennai stage. He transformed the beggar (though there were some unexplainable gaps) into a poet with just a clean bath and shave. Mala Govias gave a sharp toned performance as three girls, all same in speech and portrayal but in different clothes and different circumstances.

Shankar Sundaram played the stationmaster, the sutradhar both in the station and in the play. He had a philosophy and his particular take on life and trains. For some strange reason he was made to play it wooden and sans emotion. As a result one lost not only valuable perspective but also the potential laugh lines. In addition were the policeman (Vinod Philip), Sheeba Truman and Ramya Clara, the young things who killed time with two songs and a guitar. Though the singing was in itself good, it was difficult to position it in the scheme of the script and left one without a beginning or an end.

As if doing justice to the title, Mithran Devanesan's sets and lights elevated the production, offering the audience a point of view and a point of reference. In addition it was breathtakingly beautiful. He brought alive an entire station, the drop from the platform and miles of track, all against a plain black backdrop. Centrestage was a double-sided railway bench, to the side a snack stall on wheels. Down stage were a few yards of track and an aluminium-painted signal tower. Panelled in railway designs, the Museum Theatre steps leading away from the proscenium on either side, brilliantly suggested an over bridge. The designer then superimposed his lights design to do the rest.

Simple and elegant

He gave perspective by putting the audience on a moving train — we saw the platform and Varma's play framed by the compartment's window and time as the train paused on its way to wherever. He had done it all very simply and elegantly by moving squares of light simulating the compartment windows across on the backdrop — except that he had done it by reversing the perspective.

One also could not ignore the overwhelming presence of the shrouded dummy under the bench, with only a pair of keds offering a clue.

The soundtrack from Aruna fell into perfect sync with sets and lights echoing the "sounds" that throng platforms.

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