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A Sharp thriller

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Versatile performer Cellist-opera singer-cum-actor Matthew Sharp
Versatile performer Cellist-opera singer-cum-actor Matthew Sharp

Matthew Sharp presents a one-man operatic thriller – ‘Johnny's Midnight Goggles' on Sunday

Johnny's been kidnapped, the black camel of Takrilakastan has shown up and a mysterious pair of goggles has opened a portal to another world. Midnight is fast approaching and the chase is on to rescue Johnny. And although there are four to five characters in this story, Matthew Sharp sits alone on stage with his cello “for company,” as he narrates the tale of ‘Johnny's Midnight Goggles.'

Cellist-opera singer-cum-actor, Matthew Sharp will be in the city to present a one-man operatic thriller – ‘Johnny's Midnight Goggles,' organised by British Council, at Vyloppily Samskriti Bhavan at 6.30 p.m. on Sunday. Excerpts from an interview with the artiste:

‘Johnny's Midnight Goggles'

I run a theatre company called Sharpwire with Pete Wyer in England. One day, Pete brought three sketches of a singing, story-telling cellist, which we thought had potential. We premiered ‘Johnny's Midnight Goggles' at the Brighton festival in England in 2008. We showcased it in Edinburgh theatre festival last year and now we staged the play in Delhi and Ahmedabad before coming to the city.

One-man show

I never really wanted to make a one-man show as most of such shows I had seen were dark. I was keen that mine be a delightful piece, which I think it is. One aspect of the one-man show is that, in terms of things that help sustain you when you are on stage on your own, the audience is definitely a part of it.

Differentiating characters

In ‘Johnny,' it comes down to simple triggers. Maybe two or three characteristics per character – an accent, a small but clear posture... Because I'm stuck behind the cello, I use different voices. I have learnt that it is less about sustaining a character and more like triggering the theatre in the audience's mind; the storytelling bit of their imagination, enough so that they know who is talking. For instance, there is a character called Dulang Dulang, who wishes he was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Strangely enough I thought of Ralph Fiennes in Schindlers List; he plays the character Amon Goth. I modelled the accent on this overly serious German. So that was how I found the voice and the physicality for Dulang Dulang. Lighting helps too and so does the music from the cello, which accompanies the story. My face, people say, turns into various masks while on stage.

Other works

There's ‘Finkelstein's Castle,' a sequel to ‘Johnny's Midnight Goggles,' which is a sort of tongue-in-cheek Sherlock Holmes' ‘whodunnit.' In ‘Johnny's' I was mostly seated throughout the performance, whereas in ‘Finkelstein,' there are 15 or so characters. There's more movement as I'm rushing all over the stage and I'm less connected with my cello. But it is similar to ‘Johnny's in the sense that it tethers on the brink of fantasy and the world is coming to an end, again.

Forthcoming projects

I am doing two new pieces. One is another one-man show. It is a Kafkaesque piece that happens in a sonic labyrinth. The other is a cabaret concerto called ‘Mistress Death's Cabaret.' It is about a man who cheats death but loses his love in the process and who puts on a cabaret every night in order to appease his aching heart.

Indian tour

We had a problem with the mike in Delhi and I had to stop the show for 15 minutes. People thought it was part of the show. While the mike was being prepared, I could learn a bit about the audience. There are elements that depend on current affairs in ‘Johnny's so I always update those wherever I am. At the heart of the story is a mock conspiracy, an alternate universe that is trying to take over our world so there are plenty of things to choose from in the world of news. In Delhi, I talked about the fog, Copenhagen and Sarah Palin. I don't know what will happen on Sunday, I will just have to take in the temperature of Thiruvananthapuram then. I will also be performing a crossover music with flautist Sameer (a student of Hariprasad Chaurasia), percussionist Tao and keyboard artiste Yakson.

LIZA GEORGE

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