What characterises Cheriana, The Little Theatre’s studio space today, is rhythm. After a quiet couple of years, back rolls, cartwheels and foot-tapping beats created from loose tyres and metal tools fill the space as the cast and crew inch towards show day. As Thaatha and his minions mime behind curtained walls trying to revive little Gingo’s imagination, The Garage Gang comes alive once again.
The play, that relies heavily on slapstick and physical comedy, will kick off The Little Theatre’s 11th edition of The Little Festival, an international theatre festival for young audiences that returns after a pandemic-led hiatus of two years. The home production will be accompanied by a dance-theatre showcase Hansel & Gretel in Takadin, The Story of the Lake: a shadow puppetry rendition from South Korea, workshops, and a panel discussion spread from July 1 to 8.
The story follows a little girl named Gingo and her relentless pursuit to find her ‘imagination’, with the help of her grandfather and his trusted yet quirky accomplices. It explores human relationships and a child’s potential for imagination. Though the city is familiar with the play, the narrative has taken on a new meaning post the pandemic. Its effect on children has further stretched the play to retrain its lens on the importance of support systems, be it in school or family.
“We have been waiting to get back on stage,” says actor and artistic director of The Little Theatre, Krishnakumar Balasubramanian (KK). “During the pandemic, as a group, we have always kept our creative juices flowing. This containment of creative energy is going to explode on stage.” This creative void, as KK calls it, also shows up in how the team has devised the story for The Garage Gang this year. The cast includes KK as Thaatha and Ananya Ramaprasad as Gingo, besides Shabeer Kallarakkal, Vikas Rao (also the choreographer),Praveen Gunasekaran,Ashwin Raam and Aravindan R. “We have made sure that we bring in the best slapstick and physical comedy on stage. And oftentimes, people mistake slapstick to be something that kids enjoy but as adults we enjoy slapstick, maybe in subtler ways, in everyday life,” adds KK.
It’s story time
How does a classical Indian artform like Bharatanatyam come into play in a Grimms’ fairytale? Performing artistes Anu Bhaskararaman and Lakshmy Ramakrishnan try to answer in Hansel & Gretel in Takadin. It all started a year-and-a-half ago when Anu and Lakshmy collaborated on a series called Dancing through Stories which looked at bringing classical dance to children through stories they can relate to.
“The idea was to explore the dance form in ways that you don’t do in a traditional classroom. To look at a different facet of it,” says Chennai-based Anu. The decision to use Hansel and Gretel came from the tale’s scope for interpretation. With the help of contemporary music devised by Chennai-based music composer Jerry Silvester Vincent, the play draws heavily on Bharatanatyam but has elements from contemporary dance forms. “We felt that if the form is going to be new, the story should be familiar and so, we wanted to bring in a tale that is easily understandable,” says Anu. The narrative is predominantly told through movement and dancing, and a little bit of audience interaction.
Oh so far away
Speaking of folktales and fairytales, from South Korea comes The Story of the Lake by Company Young. Using shadow puppetry, the play tells the story of a lake that was the sole source of sustenance for the community on its banks, yet caused great worry.
“It’s a folktale, reinvented for modern audiences. It continues to use shadow puppetry and traditional theatre forms in a way that audiences across the world can relate to,” says Rathi Jafer, director of InKo Centre. The importance of conviction, faith and community is what comes through in this play, making it an ideal tale to start off with “on a note of hope and resurgence after two years of gloom,” says Rathi.
The festival will also see workshops on Storytelling Through Dance, Physical Acting and Korean Shadow Puppetry and Traditional Sounds and Rhythm. A panel discussion with industry experts on July 5 will touch upon the importance of arts post the pandemic.
The Little Festival is from July 1 to 8, at Bharata Kalakshetra Auditorium, Thiruvanmiyur. The Garage Gang will be staged on July 1 at 11am and 7pm and July 2 at 11am and 6pm. Hansel & Gretel in Takadin will be staged on July 4 and 5 at 11am. The Story of the Lake will be staged on July 7 and 8 at 11am. Visit @thelittletheatrechennai on Instagram for more details.