Theatre review: War at Our Doorsteps

Theatre review: War at Our Doorsteps

The performance stages three plays one after another—‘Lithuania’ by Rupert Brook, ‘War’ by Luigi Pirandello and ‘Riders to the Sea’ by John Synge translated into Kannada by MG Hegde.

From the performance.

In a sense, South India is a safe zone. The conflicting edges of the country that borders other nations are thousands of miles away. The flames of the cannonballs can’t be seen from here. The deafening thunders of the bursting bomb are not heard of. We have never walked in our own farms and fields fearing a possible landmine. Wars are spoken about in the same enthusiasm of discussing cricket over a cup of coffee. Yet, even though the epicentre of the war quake is far away, the vibration it creates travel over a long distance to shake the lands on which we stand. 

‘Yuddha Bantu Maneyavarege’, a play directed by Sripad Bhat, performed by the theatre group Spandana from Sagara of Shimoga District handles the theme of war and violence in a profound way. The performance stages three plays one after another—‘Lithuania’ by Rupert Brook, ‘War’ by Luigi Pirandello and ‘Riders to the Sea’ by John Synge. An Italian, an English and an Irish play, all written almost a century ago is made to speak to the Kannada audience of today with the translation by MG Hegde. 

The play ‘Lithuania’ is a moving account of monetary crisis leading to ethical corrosion. There is a family of a couple and their daughter living in a solitary house surrounded by the woods. Their son is said to have eloped from home decades ago. A rich stranger, wandering in the woods loses his way and ends up at the doorsteps of this family. The family wants to kill him, with a false sense of justification that having that much wealth is a sure sign of him being a thief. The man of the family goes out for a drink as a way to gain confidence to kill. While he is away, the mother and daughter hit the stranger to death with an axe. The drunken man comes home with a few friends, of which one tells the mother, ‘I met a stranger today. He told me that he will stay with you for a night and in the morning reveal his identity. He is your son!’

The first play is performed with a realistic approach. The speech is of the everyday, set is minimal but depicts a home effectively. The second play ‘War’ is more stylized in terms of speech, set and music. Unlike the earlier part, this has songs in it. It takes place in a railway station while people are waiting. The set consists of a wooden plank that looks like part of a train with four windows. Far from realism, the set becomes suggestive. The conversation is between people whose children are involved in the war. There is a couple whose only son is summoned by the government to work in the forces. The parents were promised that he will never be sent to the warfront. However, now he is being sent to the battlefield and the couple are travelling to bid him adieu. Another traveller tells them the story of his son who died in the war.

‘Riders to the Sea,’ the third part begins with a woman sitting in the centre-stage and a corpse being carried across the stage in a procession. In style, this is comparatively abstract. The set is of a white background with a thick black frame in front of which are a few hanging cloths that resemble the sails. Actions take place as if they are in a painting on the wall. The woman has already lost her husband and many sons to the sea. She visits the sea often to see whether her son Michael’s body will come floating to her. Her only living son, Bartley, sails with an intention to sell his horse. The mother tries to stop him as she doesn’t want to lose him to the seas. Her daughters tell her, ‘sailing on the seas is our only source of livelihood. Why did you curse instead of blessing him?’ The mother goes to see him, but returns with a vision of having seen her dead son Michael. The play ends with the funeral procession of Bartley.

The plays are from distant lands. For Kannada speakers even wars that include India are rather distant. Yet, Sripad Bhat, the director of the play manages to hit the right notes with the way he has staged it. The three parts are performed in three different styles, but they provide a unified experience. Though the suffering is the same, the way it is coped with is different across the three plays. Often, in depictions of war, suffering is submerged under the spectacle. This play is about war but does not show a war on stage, action of a battle takes a backseat and the experience is foregrounded. War and violence is often talked about in grand narratives however this play is an intimate, personal, individualized reflection on something larger than life.

Like many amateur theatre groups in Karnataka, Spandana is a group of people who are farmers, electricians, shopkeepers, home makers etc. who moonlight as actors and theatre technicians. The first set of shows of this play was in Sagara and the group is working upon their tour itinerary. They can be contacted on 99451 78792.

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