An alteration in the making of theatre

Naseeruddin Shah calls Dear Liar “a parting gift” from the late Satyadev Dubey, the great director and enfant terrible of the Indian stage. Jerome Kilty’s play dramatises the 40-year correspondence between Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and English actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell that flowered at the end of the 19th Century. It was a bittersweet relationship, as both were married to other people.

Shah and his actress-wife Ratna Pathak Shah have essayed the passionate, terrifically talented egotists in Dear Liar across two decades. They will perform next at The Hindu Theatre Fest 2016. Shah talks to us about staging Dear Liar, and its impact on his views of theatre.

What inspired the return to Dear Liar?

Nostalgia. It’s like a parting gift Dubeyji gave us; so, we treasure it greatly. Dubeyji considered Shaw the greatest playwright ever, and I am inclined to agree, and he had tremendous admiration for this woman who could match Shaw at his own game of wits. Dubeyji had an incredible understanding of how to stage an action. It’s not easy to make a letter sound like the spoken word. Mr. Shaw invariably used a lot of words; so, it took us a while to find the core of what was being said.

Tell us about the staging.

Dubeyji designed the set beforehand and fitted the play into the set, which was not his normal practice. The way he designed the set enhanced what the actors were saying. The script itself doesn’t describe any set, it’s an empty space and the two actors are supposed to be just reciting the lines. In fact, the playwright says that no attempt should be made to physically resemble Bernard Shaw or Stella Campbell, and there’s a good reason. The action of the play covers a span of 40 years, so if we were to try and resemble them physically, we’d do nothing but change our makeup for two hours! So, we greet the audience as ourselves; it’s a play in which the actors stay removed from their parts. It’s a very symmetrical set, with two doors, two windows, and portraits of Shaw and the lady. Dubeyji had us stand behind the windows and remove the portraits, which is a beautiful way to convey that these actors have now become these people.

The play unfolds more than a century ago. How do people respond to it now?

I’m sure in 20 years, people will forget what handwritten letters were like, but I think the nostalgia associated with writing a letter will always remain, and the profundity of the relationship that has been etched between the two via the letters. The text of this play is all the letters they wrote to each other, and things that Stella [Campbell] and Shaw actually said or wrote either in a letter or article or a play.

What do you enjoy about working with Ratna Pathak Shah in Dear Liar?

Though Dear Liar is rather lengthy, it’s not emotionally exhausting to do this play, as we don’t have to be those characters all the time. In fact, this play has altered my idea about the way theatre should be done. I have begun to believe quite strongly in having the actors stay removed from the characters they play. Firstly, the audience always knows they are in a theatre; you can never convince them otherwise. So, it is more important to emphasise the fact that this is a play by actors who are playing roles. And then, we go ahead and do the roles with as much truth and authenticity as possible. It makes our job doubly challenging, and also gives us a sense of respite in-between scenes. When Ratna is into a long passage, I can just sit back and enjoy the words and not be worried about how I have to react and respond.

The play will be staged on August 19 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Chetpet. Tickets are priced at Rs. 1,000, Rs. 500 and Rs. 300

The Hindu Theatre Fest 2016

The Title Sponsor of the event is YES BANK. The Associate Sponsors are Kauvery Hospital, Hindustan International School and Telangana Tourism. The Hospitality Partner is Taj Coromandel. The Mall Partner is Phoenix Market City (Chennai). The Mobility Partner is Ola. The gift partner is Terra Earthfood. The Radio Partner is Chennai Live 104.8. The Merchandise Partner is Focus Art Gallery and the Event Manager is evam.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 4:27:50 AM |

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