English dystopian thriller ‘Edgar and Annabel’ comes to Chennai

British playwright Sam Holcroft’s Edgar and Annabel, a dystopian story of dissenters fighting against the establishment, comes to Chennai, directed by Sunandha Raghunathan

November 30, 2022 04:20 pm | Updated December 01, 2022 05:10 pm IST

The cast of Edgar and Annabel.

The cast of Edgar and Annabel. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A group of friends gathers for karaoke night — the familiar tunes of ‘Just a small town girl’ fill the air, as the friends sing aloud; Just another fun soirée. Their faces, however, tell a different story.

They seem preoccupied, almost disturbed. Is someone listening in? On the far end of the room, are stocked canisters of chemicals, tangled wires and medical gloves; a spread that screams hazard. Everything seems alright, but is clearly not.

This evident dichotomy that runs through most of the narrative, is what characterises  Edgar and Annabel.

Written by the British playwright Sam Holcroft, the play is a dystopian fable of freedom fighters or political dissenters who are being subjected to constant surveillance by the Orwellian establishment they are fighting against. Under the captainship of Guduguduppukari’s Sunandha Raghunathan,  Edgar and Annabel opens in Chennai this weekend. It is presented by Chennai Art Theatre and Guduguduppukari.

This writer was a fly on the wall at their first run — tight, with some commendable performances. After the rehearsal, Sunandha along with a few of the cast members sits down to discuss the choice of this play.

“It made my heart race,” says Sunandha. After discussions with Nithin Ram, who essays the role of Edgar/Nick, they started work in October. “My first impression was that it is going to be an incredibly challenging acting exercise,” says Nithin.

Annabel is played by National Award-winner Lakshmipriyaa Chandramouli, who is part of an impressive cast that includes Venkataraghavan Subha Srinivasan, Namita Krishnamurthy, Yashwant Sathu, Dharshan and Sneha.

The first few weeks were spent in workshops: “I wanted to get everyone in the world of the play. So that everyone knows the tone,” says Sunandha.

The director asked all of her actors to associate each of their characters with an animal: this interpretation affects the way they move or react. Nitin’s Nick, for instance, is a salmon — that swims upstream only to end up right where it started.

Sunandha adds, “This is a dystopian, domestic play. We were going over every line of the play to identify where it is set.” It is still difficult to say, as it could be set in the near-future, past or even in the now. She continues, “I set it in the now.” For two weeks, she worked with actors on viewpoints, a compositional tool for dance and device theatre that helped her with setting the stagescapes.

Sunandha Raghunathan

Sunandha Raghunathan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When working with Western content, relatability often goes for a toss, especially from the local audience’s point of view. For the director, this was not a concern. “When you do a work intended for a Western audience written by a Western playwright, in India with brown bodies, it already feels like an adaptation. We don’t look like Edgar, Annabel or Miller, we don’t sound like them. That itself is an interpretation,” says Sunandha who prefers to keep the incongruous details while working on Western pieces, almost as a statement of subversion.

Interestingly, a playwright from Belgium is translating the play into Flemish for a performance in Belgium. The text has already gone through many adaptations and interpretations.

Finally, Sunandha asks, “Do you think it’s a revolutionary story wrapped in a love story, or a love story wrapped in a revolutionary story?” It’s for the audience to find out.

Edgar and Annabel will be staged at Medai - The Stage, Alwarpet on December 3 at 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are on Book My Show.

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