Chat Paddy Hayter, along with Shaji Karyat, talks about their dream to tour the world in a tent

White sheets of cloth held up by sticks over two metres long cover a circular space on the lawns of the Lalitha Kala Thoranam, shadows dance on them as they sway in the light breeze, a motley collection of musical instruments occupy a space outside the stage. Members of the Footsbarn Theatre, Paris could be seen walking about, their costumes evoking curiosity among the audience. The travelling theatre group was in the city as part of the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival to stage ‘Indian Tempest’, a work of the Bard with an Indian touch. Fifteen minutes into the captivating performance, just after we witnessed Miranda’s first encounter with Ferdinand, it began to rain.

It was ten minutes before Paddy Hayter, director and actor took the stage to announce that they will be stopping.

The audience ran to the gallery and the cast and crew remained on the ground, treating us to an impromptu performance of dance and music. Just another day in the life of a travelling theatre company!

Speaking to us a day before the performance, Paddy and Shaji Karyat, also a member of the cast tells us he had the option of staging it indoors or on stage “we play in a tent or an arena because we want to be part of the audience,” Paddy says as he rubbishes the idea of a proscenium stage. “We are having some bureaucratic problems but we are going to put it right in the middle of the lawn.”

The group left their home in England in 1981 with their families, caravans and tents to become a nomadic theatre company performing wherever the road led, creating shows in different countries and cultures. “It is one thing to stay in one place and ask the audience to come to you but a whole other to go to the audience,” says Shaji who along with four other actors from Abhinaya Theatre, Kerala, are part of the production. “The only way to find out about the world is to go into it,” adds Paddy.

Dream tour

While they are based in Paris, Footsbarn spends 6-8 months in a year on the road performing in various places. “My father was an actor with a travelling theatre so I have memories of sitting at the back of a truck with props and sets around me and watching him act on stage.” Shaji, on the other hand, joined Footsbarn in 1995 for a production titled ‘The Odyssey, left to Paris and never looked back. ‘The Odyssey’ was the first collaborative effort between Footsbarn and Abhinaya Theatre, before ‘Indian Tempest’.

Footsbarn has long harboured the dream of travelling in India with their caravan and performing in not just the big cities but also remote villages. While folk theatres in India do travel to various places, taking with them everything from costumes to equipment to sets, to have an international group come and do the same might seem impossible but Paddy is confident. “We did a trip to Africa where we carried everything from sets to lighting to seating for 300 people. We want to bring the tent here so the audience can experience theatre the way we play it; it is how theatre was originally performed. It was a failed mission this time, because of lack of finances but we have to try again,” he explains.

How does one perform Shakespeare to a non-English speaking audience? “We try to go beyond talking,” says Paddy. “If the body isn’t engaged, then words fall to the floor and it is just literature in costume,” he quotes Adrienne Mnouchkine. Watching the audience connect with Indian Tempest, where actors spoke Sanksrit, Malayalam and English laid those fears to rest. For now, the actors have performances scheduled in Mumbai, Delhi, Thrissur, Trivandrum and Goa. Meanwhile, the dream to tour India in a tent lives on.