The maiden enterprise of Spandan’s Theatre Wing, Māyājāl (Birla Sabhagar, May 1), augurs well for its future. It seems that Spandan is committed to serious work in its own productions, never mind the regular commercialized blockbusters which it sponsors from outside. One hopes it continues not to compromise, for it can then lend extra weight to the burgeoning reputation of Hindi theatre in this city.
Of course, Māyājāl is not in Hindi, strictly speaking, but dramatized from a Rajasthani folk tale collected by Vijaydan Detha, respected senior folklorist of Rajasthani literature. The play contains his omnipresent Marxist message, this time about the evil influence of materialistic pursuits, but fortunately the moral is not forced down our throats: we are allowed to come to our own conclusions through the unfolding of the story, about an honest rustic couple whose values change when they turn into killers of rich seths in transit through their village, in the superstitious belief that accumulation of wealth will bring their son back quickly—their son whom they had given away at a tender age.
Ranjit Kapur’s best directorial attempt to date shows an acute sense of the intrinsic tragic irony that gradually builds up to the point when the son does return, to meet a horrible end that we can anticipate but (in the best tradition of tragedy) cannot prevent. Ashok Singh and Renu Roy act well in their Macbeth and Lady Macbeth-like characters, with fine support from the rest of the cast. The musical prologue goes on far too long, but otherwise the music is well conducted, too.
The Actors Company selected an opportune time for its debut, Keith Waterhouse’s Mr and Mrs Nobody (sponsored by Tata Steel at Gyan Manch, April 27). The popular English chronicle, The Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith, celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its publication last year. It told the amusingly mundane tale, in diary form, of the utterly ordinary Charles Pooter of the utterly ordinary town Holloway.
A clever sequel appeared ten years ago when Keith Waterhouse wrote Mrs Pooter’s Diary, a novelistic account of the distaff side of the story. Then, in 1986, Waterhouse combined his narrative with the Grossmiths’ into Mr and Mrs Nobody, a dramatization that became a runaway hit in London. It was theatrically most unusual, because the play contained just these two humdrum characters, seated most of the time in their respective chairs, reading from their daily log of non-events. Did A. R. Gurney get his idea for Love Letters from here?
The production in fact highlights the literary and historical merits of the once-flourishing, now-dying art of diary-writing. Both Phyllis Bose and Dean Turner act commendably as the typical Victorian couple who derive more emotional and physical support from this hobby of keeping a journal than from each other. If Bose perfectly portrays the wife who sees herself quite literally as the better half, Turner depicts with bathos an average clerk whose greatest pleasure is concocting and laughing at his own rather infrequent jokes.
As director, Bose captures the subtly ironic tone of the source (which originally appeared in Punch, after all) as well as Waterhouse’s fascination for boring English family life (as in his famous Billy Liar). If the second half drags slightly, one can argue that it suits the dreary monotony of their existence. As designer, Bose pays careful attention to domestic detail, and receives adequate support from Naveen Kishore’s lights and, despite some snafus, Robin Lai’s sound.
(From The Telegraph, 11 June 1993)