Ibsen takes centre stage

Often referred to as the father of realism in literature, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen still makes his way into stages across the world. The Ibsen theatre festival (season 2) came to Mumbai last week at the Experimental Theatre at the National Centre for the Performing Arts.

Nils Ragnar Kamsvag, the Ambassador of Norway to India, told The Hindu, “New generations should get the chance to meet Ibsen. For those of us who know him, new performance often adds to our understanding of the plays and/or our interpretations of them, also coloured by time and place. Ibsen had an ability to explore topics which are timeless and borderless.

“The challenges that India faces today on gender, on human relationships and family ties were all spoken of by Ibsen several generations ago. I think therefore he also has a lot to say to an Indian audience. And the audience in India can learn a lot from the layers of complex moral ethos and value systems that Ibsen tries to unravel in his works. This festival, therefore, is not only a presentation of theatre, but this festival is about engaging in a dialogue with Ibsen and about Ibsen,” he said.

Adaptations for India

Actor Ila Arun directed plays for the festival and conducted a seminar on translating Ibsen. Her association with the playwright began a few years ago.

“I was asked by [theatre director] Dr. Nissar Allana to participate in the Ibsen festival in 2010 in Delhi. The subject was ‘Ibsen in tradition’ so I decided to adapt Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea as Mareechika in a Rajasthani folk tradition ‘Pabu ji ki phad’. The production was highly appreciated by Norwegian and Indian audiences alike,” she says.

She was invited to Norway to watch the Ibsen theatre festival organised by the Ibsen Centre in Oslo in 2012.“I started work on the Ibsen theatre festival 2014 titled ‘When we dead awaken — Ibsen comes alive in Mumbai’. It shaped into an international festival as two troupes from Norway participated. Ruth Wilhelmine and Helge Lien performed themes of Ibsen plays in jazz music and the celebrated theatre and film actor Kare Conradi of Norway performed Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in a one-hour solo show.

“Then we had a production in Gujarati of Master Builder and my production Peer Ghani, an adaptation of the dramatic poem Peer Gynt. It was important for me to work in a language and milieu known to me so that the audience gets connected with the theme of the play,” says Ila.

But adapting Ibsen for Indian audiences was not bereft of challenges. “The most difficult part of the adaption is how to make the play your own without disturbing the soul of the play or the message the playwright wants to give.”

Poetic flavour

After lot of deliberation I decided to place the adaptation in Kashmir and tell the story of ‘Peer Ghani’ who tries to search for his identity and wants to know who he really is. My emphasis in the adaptation was to keep the poetic flavour of Ibsen intact and work on a relationship of Peer Ghani with his mother and motherland. Going by the response of the play, I think we have succeeded in conveying the message,” says Ila.

What makes Ibsen still relevant? “Ibsen wrote his plays 100 years back. He was concerned about issues that are still relevant today in India, be it voice of women, status of women in a male-dominated society or corruption in society and decay in moral values. So the inspiration to produce his plays is natural,” says Ila.

She is already busy working on her next play, an adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghost.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 11:14:01 AM |

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