Exploring the world of the absurd

Traversing spaces

Exploring the world of the absurd

For theatre artiste and director Michael Joseph,  the fact that both the plays he will be staging in the City soon are from the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ isn’t the only thing that is exciting. The intrinsics of the plays that he is directing, which are ‘The Leader’, written by Eugène Ionesco. and ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’, written by Samuel Beckett, are many he says.

These plays will be staged in the City as part of the ‘Deccan Herald Theatre Festival’. ‘The Leader’ will be presented by ‘Gnatak’ and ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ is directed and will be acted by him. The director says that while the former is a satire, the latter is more like a monologue.

“They both come from the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, a movement which was present in the late 40s and 50s. The playwrights, who were working then, weren’t interacting with each other and Martin Esslin saw a common thematic concern, philosophical alignment and the idea of absurdity,” he says. He adds that there were many authors under this movement and they were all identified differently from each other. “In some sense they were bound together by a certain loss of communication and a certain sense of solitude. ‘The Leader’ and ‘Krapp...’ are radically different plays.”

“‘The Leader’ is a satirical farce where the movement landscape is large, loud and burlesque. The characters come from the idea of typage rather than an exploration of psychological emotions. They are written in a way that one doesn’t delve into the physiological realism of characters,” he details. The words in ‘The Leader’ are either from slogans, staccato, nonsensical and absurd, while in ‘Krapp...’ the words are minimal. About ‘The Leader’, he says that the play is on mass adulation of political leaders and blind faith. The play revolves around a group of people who are waiting for their leader. The announcer leads the celebration, diligently awaits the leader and excitedly calls out his most mundane actions. Through the use of character typage, ‘The Leader’ highlights the absurdist and existential themes of non-personalisation and a loss of identity.

“In ‘Krapp’s...’, the play is about a man who follows the ritual of recording events
that have gone by on his birthday. When he is 69, he is trying to record the year that passed by. The movements are minute and set around a table with a recorder, in a pool of light, surrounded by darkness,” he says.

Michael says that both the plays do not come from a strong plot. “Though they come from the same tradition, the plays are different in form. I thought this would be a nice juxtaposition to have.” On why he chose to work on these two stories, he says, “The idea of the mob and mass adulation, without a strong understanding of what is being eulogised or adored, was an interesting proposition. Thematically, I aligned to the idea, where in contemporary lives people do not understand the mechanics of the agenda of such people. The idea of going into a cynical sort of theatre which was not dependant on the word excited me. The text allows a certain interpretation and way of improvising.”

Michael says that the script of ‘The Leader’ was like a springboard which allowed one to explore different facets of theatre. He adds that he got a chance to explore a lot with this play. “The play is also acting as a platform to bring new talent to the forefront. I worked with a lovely group of people, whose energy levels are unbelievable. Their opennesss to try and experiment has been fascinating. The choreography has also been interesting.”

In Beckett’s play, ‘Krapp’s...’, he says it was the opposite. “Beckett’s plays are known to be definitive and precise. The play has been called by a critic as ‘the first sound installation’. The man in his 60s who is trying to record his voice, is unable to do so and he brings out past recordings. The 69-year-old is listening to a tape from his 39th birthday which talks about life when he was 29. The play brings together various time zones of the same character in the same space. By doing this, it sheds light on memory and time — of things we hold as important at a given moment, but later on, seem irrational or inconsequential.”

‘The Leader/Krapp’s Last Tape’, will be staged on February 20 and 21 at Jagriti Theatre at 7.30 pm, at Rangashankara on February 25, 7.30 pm and at Chowdiah Memorial Hall on February 27, 7.30 pm.


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