Theatre

‘Home’ coming

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Boy With a Suitcase has had a successful run for ten years. This play which travelled across the globe is coming back to Bangalore

In 2009, a motley group of artists including me, from Ranga Shankara, Bangalore and Schnawwl Theater, Mannheim, got together for a month long residency at Nrityagram, Hessarghatta. Actors, musicians, dramaturges, designers and a director - Andrea Gronemeyer - embarked on a journey that we hoped would result in a play that could perhaps have a decent run. We never imagined the turn things would take.

Sophia Stepf, the German dramaturg, had selected a relatively unknown script by the English playwright, Mike Kenny, called Boy with a Suitcase. It was about migration and children, something we felt would resonate with both Indian and German audiences. Working as Sophia’s counterpart, the Indian dramaturg on the project over the last 10 years, I’ve been fly on the wall to innumerable rehearsals and performances. This is the story of that journey.

To begin with, our group was multi-cultural. Never mind the German actors who were in fact from Luxembourg, Belarus, Switzerland and Taipei, the Indians - M.D. Pallavi, B.V. Shrunga and Konarak Reddy - were themselves from very diverse backgrounds. From this complex cultural soup of histories, ethos and background, a common ground was found. In the years that followed, cast and crew left home and began a ten year long journey from India to Germany and then on to London, Dublin, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland over land, ocean and sky. Children were born, lessons were learned, love was lost, love was found. We performed more than 120 shows to scores of children of immigrants as well as children of long settled citizens of host countries. And we are still playing, ten years after, with the original cast! This circumvents culture entirely and was only possible because of relationships forged.

When we began work in 2009, there were stray news reports of boats carrying immigrant children. By 2015, the refugee crisis had exploded and Boy with a Suitcase became a critical link between the news and children. Post play discussions increasingly centred around economic refugees and asylum seekers. In 2019, it remains as relevant because of the tragedy of war and displacement that continues to unfold.

Boy with a Suitcase is an allegorical play that tells the story of Naz, played by B.V. Shrunga. He is a young boy from a war torn country, who is sent away from his home to seek “a better life”. All he is armed with are the stories of Sinbad the Sailor that his mother, played by M.D. Pallavi, used to tell him. On the way, he meets Kryzia, another refugee, and together they undergo all the trials of migration and loss of home.

‘Home’ coming

Eventually, Naz makes it to the “better land”, but when he gets there, he’s in for another shock that begs the questions - where is ‘home’ and what do we mean by “a better life”? We’ve had heart stopping moments where life and art intersect on these questions. In Oslo, a young boy stayed on to meet us. His name was Naz and he was from Afghanistan. In Mannheim, we met refugees who told us scenes in the play were exactly what they experienced in their search for asylum.

Live music, embedded in the dramaturgy, is an important part of this play. Composed and performed by Konarak Reddy, Coordt Linke and M.D. Pallavi, it imbues the narrative with a sense of irony and subtext. Attentive to memory and cultural heritage, it concretises ideas of home. In every single show we have performed, the audience has felt uplifted by the music.

The play finally returns to India in December with shows planned at Ranga Shankara, Bangalore and Serendipity Arts Festival, Goa. This is a poignant signing off. With these shows, we are closing this production. Children and adults will have a last chance to watch it and ask themselves the meaning of ‘home’.

In a conversation with Arundhati Nag about this full circle moment, she said: “In my 45 years of engagement with theatre in India, the experience of being involved in this collaboration, to watch it run successfully over so many years has been the most satisfying. A fine script, sculpted into a very fine play by Andrea Gronemeyer, with a team of dedicated high class artistes is a memorable treat for the world of theatre!”

Indeed.

For this play is eventually about that backpack that we carry as we journey in life. A backpack that contains something of our past. Our stories. Our memories of home.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 10:52:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/home-coming/article30189096.ece

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