Lost in translation

Metaphor and meaning: A scene from 'The Tale of a Tiger'.  

Kabul’s Azdar Theatre put up a delightful performance of Dario Fo’s monologue “The Tale of a Tiger” at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav in New Delhi. Based on a Chinese folk play, the story describes the journey of a soldier who is injured during Mao’s Long March.

The soldier, who is also the narrator (Sulaiman Sohrab), is left to die of gangrene infection. He stumbles into a tigress’ den and is miraculously healed by the beast. The tigress licks his wounds dry and breastfeeds him. In turn he gets the tigress and her cub accustomed to cooked meat.

The actor is dressed as a tiger — bare-chested, clad in a furry loin cloth with a tail. He narrates his tale from behind a cage, animating his lines with spectacular movements on a wooden ramp. The play itself takes place behind in a zoo-like cage, the final home of the tigers.

Sohrab’s performance was splendid. Seemingly unconscious of his nakedness and bearing the retreating winter, he successfully switches back and forth from Red Army soldier to roaring tiger. He constantly goads the audience to applaud. Sohrab’s agility couldn’t be matched by the supertitle operators who successfully gave everyone who doesn’t know Persian an inferiority complex.

The soldier finally flees the cave and comes to a village, only to be followed by the tigers. The tigers are successfully deployed to scare off Chiang Kai Shek’s forces and the Japanese. Their fame grows such that the villagers even deploy tiger models of papier mache and cloth. Every time the enemy retreats the party commissars reward the soldier and order the tigers back to the forest and, finally, into a zoo. The soldier and the peasants resist all attempts to send the tigers away. Finally, from behind the cage bars, the tiger roars and scares away the party commissars,

At least that’s what the script says. In the Persian translation, directed by Arash Absalan, the party commissars are replaced by a well-heeled urbane couple, dressed in a Kabul of a parallel universe which never saw the civil war.

Fo’s script is very metaphorical. The tigress represents resistance, and “having a tiger” in the Shanghai dialect, says Fo, refers to a person who never gives in or delegates power to anyone, however authoritative he may be.

There are plays for which you needn’t know the language. Modern physical theatre transcends the limitations imposed by language. But for a monologue such as this, language is the key. Somewhere in Bahawalpur House, which is home to the National School of Drama, there is a supertitle operator who should feel very, very sorry.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 4:59:05 PM |

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