Theatre

Manoeuvring space

Deepan Sivaraman. Photo: Special Arrangement.   | Photo Credit: Thulassi Kakkat

Space and its dynamics dictate Deepan Sivaraman's theatre grammar. Visuals are the torchlight for him, rather than the dominant text. His approach won notice and accolades when his “Spinal Cord” swept the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards last year and also performed at the National School of Drama's Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Apart from his work with Thrissur-based Oxygen Theatre Company, Sivaraman spends considerable time in England pursuing his Ph.D and teaching scenography at the University of Arts, London. The 38-year-old director is in the Capital with his renewed approach to Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen's “Peer Gynt” as part of the Delhi Ibsen festival. Excerpts from a chat:

As For a director who has dealt with contemporary concerns and seeks to work with indigenous theatre traditions, what how does a Norwegian playwright from the past century hold out to you?

I think Ibsen is one of those writers who can be read in a very contemporary way. Be it the “The Master Builder”, “Peer Gynt” or “A Doll's House”, there are socio-political elements to his works. “A Doll's House” was one of the first feminist works, while “An Enemy of the People” was against an entire society. So that way, Ibsen is very contemporary and “Peer Gynt” for me was a natural selection. It fits quite well into an Indian social context where the narrative is of a man going through a journey, through different phases, his sins and then coming back. So, it's universal.

How relevant is Ibsen to Indians, since most of us are familiar with only his “A Doll's House” as part of curriculum. Would you have picked up a text like “Peer Gynt” — part fantasy, fairytale, satire and very Norwegian in its sensibility, if not for a festival like this?

Firstly, Ibsen's plays are not very easy to work with. Text-wise and character-wise they are deep and one cannot work with amateur actors or without funding. You cannot mess with an Ibsen text. I think Ibsen is known in the academic circles, but has not been done on stage here much. On the other hand, Shakespeare has got greater attention maybe because of the colonial connection, so academically and on stage, Shakespeare has been done quite well.

As a director, I have not done Ibsen until now, but there is no particular reason as to why I haven't. It is quite a job, and I took up the project as a challenge. With “Peer Gynt” it is like if I can do this production, I can do theatre! It is his toughest play.

What guided your approach to “Peer Gynt” as a performance text? You have set it an asylum.

“Peer Gynt” is quite different from Ibsen's other works, its structure and plot has elements of fantasy, different from his other social plays. I don't work with proscenium theatre and I looked at the play from a different angle. When I read the play a second time to make it and researched on it, I found similar texts in Marlowe's “Dr Faustus,” Ibsen's own “Mountain Bird,” Hermann Hesse's “Siddhartha” and even Kazantzakis' “Zorba The Greek.” “Peer Gynt” works in a modern Indian context. Peer meets several people during his journey, including birds and animals, and there is the absurdity element too.

In the play, Peer ends up in an asylum and his heart/soul is the problem, whether it can be saved by a woman or God. The hospital is the place where life begins and finishes, the delivery room and mortuary can be side by side separated by a wall. The hospital becomes the laboratory of the scholarly person — God. … In a way, I have a new text, but the plot remains the same.

How does being a You are scenographer and how does being one colour your vision as director?

As a scenographer, I read a text visually. I never work with the text firsthand, I work with the space. When I read a text, I make drawings and give shape to my theatre, the lighting, actors, etc. The text is born during rehearsals. The word is not the starting point, the space is. But in “Peer Gynt” there is a lot of text.

You are pursuing a practice-led Ph.D where your productions become a point of research. How does that work?

I have been looking at theatre spaces for a while now. I have directed 35-40 productions on proscenium. But in 2004, I started to explore eclectic theatre spaces. Proscenium has its limitations and makes the story a spectacle and I was not keen to make my productions magic. They are quite raw and theatrical and that's where “Spinal Cord” and even “Peer Gynt” come in. The 21st Century theatre space has to be interactive, and my productions are an experiment with that.

“Peer Gynt” will be performed on Friday at 7 p.m., Kamani Auditorium, Mandi House.


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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 3:22:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Manoeuvring-space/article15577862.ece

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