Theatre

‘Medea’ in the round

Reaching out: Director Anuradha Marwah Special Arrangement

Reaching out: Director Anuradha Marwah Special Arrangement  

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Theatre director Anuradha Marwah on taking classical works to spaces that are accessible to general public

The stage is ready, instead of a set it is packed with chairs for the audience, while the house lights are on. The performers are neither in the wings nor on stage. In their simple Greek costumes, they break into dialogue from among the audience in the hall as they begin their performance. In Pandies’ Theatre group’s adaptation of the Greek classic, “Medea”, theatre director Anuradha Marwah explores a democratic performance dynamic that brings actors and audience on the same level, setting aside the idea of the stage.

Performed in the round, the concept attempts to bring classical drama into everyday arena by merging spaces and challenging conventional theatre strategies. The production has been featured in diverse settings across Delhi, ranging from intimate performance venues like the basement theatre at India Habitat Centre and Studio Safdar to colleges and women’s shelter homes.

Levelling the stage

“This is the concept of Samtal,” she explains. “Mostly, classical works are performed on the proscenium stage, in ways that are inaccessible to the general public. With Samtal, we take nuanced and profound themes to everybody, focusing on the human element that often gets overlooked when the productions are extremely intellectualised.” The term ‘samtal’ literally means a level field. Seeking to bring world theatre classics to new audiences, the concept also involves opportunities for discussions between the audience, cast and crew of the production.

Marwah reflects on the evolution of the idea that inspired her to direct the play, “I was inspired by the work of theatre group Ten Thousand Things’ and dreamed-up of ‘Samtal’ while in Minneapolis on a Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence (FNAPE) Fellowship in 2017. It’s a door that opened up a whole new area of creativity for me. I am essentially a writer, and never actually thought of myself as a director. When I started to think of Samtal, it was something very new for me and I was like a child wanting to explore new things.” The community theatre work of Ten Thousand Things involved taking iconic plays to non-traditional venues. Performing in the round, with all the lights on, attracted her because the audience would also become a part of the performance in this way.

Finally, in 2019, Michelle Hensley, founder of Ten Thousand Things along with playwright Kira Obolensky, came to Delhi and trained the creative team of Samtal for performance in the round.

Adapting ‘Medea’

A scene from “Medea”

A scene from “Medea”  

“Finding the play that would begin this programme was really challenging,” recalls Marwah. “The script is very strong and I was apprehensive whether a radical work like Medea would work in the kind of rendering we were planning.” When she presented the first draft of the adaptation to her performers at the reading, they found it challenging and amusing. “It seemed too grandiose to be performed in the round. I realised it had to be much more conversational and spent another month reworking the script!”

Though the play is distant in time and space, Marwah was confident that it would resonate with contemporary contexts and spark discussion and debate with the audience. “We premièred the play in Shakti Shalini shelter home for women in Nithari Basti. The audience had absolutely no familiarity with Greek drama yet they responded and wanted to talk.” The power of the play lies in bringing out the audience from the space of passive spectatorship into an active dialogue about their own lives. “In educational institutions, or studio spaces, it was intense, people wanted to talk about their lives – relationships, sexuality. Topics that are conventionally taboo could be broached because we are looking at them through the play, it was somebody else’s story, so it becomes easy to voice opinions.”

Democratic forum

The shows extended much beyond the performance with deeper conversations with each group. While the text and theme of Medea opened up insights into the audience’s own lives, the discussions delved into different points of view. In the shelter home, for instance, women opened up about their own experiences of abuse and abandonment. Urban audience in studio settings were enamoured with the dynamic aesthetics of performance in the round, while students expressed curiosity about politics and directorial choices.

For Marwah, exploring theatre as a levelled and democratic space stems from her own beliefs and feminist politics. “The beauty of performing in the round with classical texts is that a wide range of audience respond to it, cutting across class and socio-economic divide.” As the production gains momentum, there are more performances coming up in other cities, towns and villages. The theatre group is busy bracing up for unexpected questions from the audience, more intense dialogues to draw them in and their own conversation with a classic from the past.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 1:33:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/medea-in-the-round/article30461626.ece

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