Suddenly existentialism appears back in fashion among young troupes, with two adaptations from Camus and Sartre, as well as a third by a more established group, from the early absurdism of Ionesco. Under what circumstances can we justify killing? At a time when even intelligent and reasonable folk unexpectedly voice support for violent solutions, Mad About Drama’s choice of Camus’s The Just, renamed A History of Butchers, rings an appropriate alarm advocating moderation – although some of their techniques may superficially indicate that they, too, favour burning down the house.

Writer-director Aritra Sengupta slides fluidly back and forth from the pre-Russian Revolution assassination plot to contemporary Kolkata, and switches between Bengali and English without a trace of artifice. If one follows Camus’s story and dialogue, to which Sengupta adheres more than deviates, one understands the plea to question any kind of killing, however “just” it may seem. On the other hand, MAD’s signature style of shock tactics and screamed obscenities from the perches and the auditorium may suggest wrongly that, as angry, rebellious young people, they agree with the rage expressed. For regular MAD-watchers, overuse of such Theatre of Cruelty waters down the impact. However, the novel live instrumental interventions of bass and guitar suit their theme.

Among the shorter one-acts, Nagma selected Sartre’s The Respectful Prostitute purely as a take-off platform for Dasht-e-Tanhai, a Hindustani Indianization – where Sartre attacked racism in the American South, as a white mob seeks to lynch an innocent black man, Ankush Goutam Ghosh inserts a Kashmiri fugitive, sympathetic neither to the militancy nor the military, hiding at the prostitute’s. Sartre’s more intellectual testimonial persuading us as responsible individuals to protest against an unacceptable situation slowly changes in Ghosh’s direction to a more melodramatic depiction of trauma, amplified by his addition of a second woman whom he makes the man’s sister, forced into prostitution after a gang-rape.

In Prachya’s Nilimā, Udayan Ghosh faithfully transfers Ionesco’s The Lesson into Bengali as power-wielding teachers’ murder of helpless students, though the title (clever in itself syllabically, since the first girl is Nilima and the next, Malini) unnecessarily diverts focus from the medium of oppression to the victim of it. Gautam Halder creates the perfect professor in his psychopathic catatonia, while Saoli Chattopadhyay plays the mediocre pupil naturally. Biplab Bandyopadhyay directs a team of extras emerging out of the professor’s woodwork only to prolong the production, but Ionesco’s text needs no supernumeraries to improve it.

(From The Telegraph, 24 September 2016)