Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Theatre Review: ‘Post Mortem’ by St. Stephen’s: Dario Fo given a new interpretation

There is no blinking to the fact that Delhi University still has one of the most vibrant University theatre culture, and various colleges put shows which can very well be compared to the supposedly professional theatre productions in the country. The productions by undergraduate students may lack certain nuances, but then this is the time when one must commit mistakes.
A scene from the play
The Hindi Dramatics society of St. Stephen’s College, The Shakespeare Sabha, presented ‘Post Mortem’, an adaptation of Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of An Anarchist’ in the college Auditorium on August 23, 2013. The director claimed that it was Amitabh Shrivastava’s version, but this audience doubt this claim and feel the director and the entire team had helped in bringing out the Stephanian version of the play! There were few fundamental differences in this version and the play written by Dario Fo few decades back.

The play is set in modern day Delhi and the famous manic of Dario Fo, plays the different characters in the Police Station of Chanakyapuri. The play, being a college production, was full of college humor spread across the presentation, which at times gave few reasons to smile. The director of the play, Rahul Jain, cleverly used various dramatic tools to enhance the beauty of the play. The production saw many tools of alienation used by the director. The director intentionally broke the fourth wall at various points to tickle the audience. At times I felt many of those could have been done away with to add the element of ‘Crispness’ in the play. Initially the play was able to bring out the soul of Dario Fo, but towards the end it simply lost it.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is essentially a political play and raises many relevant questions which are apt for our part of the world as well. But there is a difference between being ‘preachy’ and being ‘subtle’. Post Mortem was preachy. The soul of the play lies in being subtle rather than superficially romanticizing it. An adaptation is a tricky area to play in. One needs to understand the political stand which Dario Fo wanted to establish in the play, which the college group portrayed as an Ultra Left motive. Theatre when combined with activism can be beautiful, but then theatre has its own craft. The director wanted to raise so many issues in one play, which stole the essence of the original play as well. But then we all want to say so much in our Undergraduate days!
A scene from the play
There was a particular point during the change of scene, when the stage managers were changing the set and the voice over gave the audience an understanding of what ‘Theatre of Reality’ means, which was not required. These jargons are not for the audience, and they’d enjoy more without them. It may say that it was to while away the time of the audience, but then whatever you do on stage is never to while away the time!

The St. Stephen’s version of the play takes a very strong political stand against the status quo, which must be appreciated. But it was so obvious that it lost its impact. Towards the end of the play, after listening to the unnecessary and long discussion regarding RTI and romanticizing the Naxal movement, one felt it was a mediocre performance by a particular student political wing of an ‘Ultra Left’ organization (which the protagonist himself says!). But if I remove certain parts then it wasn’t a mediocre performance at all.

The actors were pretty decent and did a great job indeed. Soutik Banerjee who played fanatic did justice to his character, but he was too refined to appear as Fo’s fanatic to me. Mutahhar Amin who played the character of Inspector Khan stole the show as an actor. Another actor Saif Rashid who otherwise had a small character to play did justice to it. Divya Kapur as the journalist Fatima Abbasi lacked physical stability on stage and her unnecessary movements simply deviated the strong points which her character was dying to put! Others actors did a good job. The play also saw a very good stage set up.

The weakest link of the play, which any Dario Fo admirer could not accept, was the interpretation that the maniac was a journalist from Tehelka, who may be on his another sting operation! There is a reason why everybody loves maniac of Fo. This interpretation which came only as a shock must have been avoided.
A scene from the play
Though the play, it seemed had a very romantic notion about the violent history of the Naxal movement, was only able to deliver the age old logics and obsolete debates. It was good to see that a Delhi University college theatre group was taking relevant issues with great enthusiasm. It is only the educational institutions where one can talk about serious political issues using theatre as a tool, sadly not the professional theatre circuit.

The team deserves more than applause for putting a brave show.

This review first appeared in My Theatre Cafe on August 26, 2013

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