English theatre in the city lost one of its dedicated practitioners when Rohit Pombra passed away suddenly and prematurely. He had helmed his group, Stagecraft, for 30 years, guiding them from the usual fare of foreign drama to a growing enthusiasm for original Indian playwriting in English, and branching out into admirable social commitment by directing theatre in English with inmates of correctional homes. The members of Stagecraft vow to continue their activities, which we hope they do, for the local theatrical scenario in this language looks rather thin.

A Pombra protege, Tathagata Chowdhury, later founded Theatrecian, whose new production is Pinter’s classic, The Birthday Party, which they had staged in 2002. When a group revisits a text they have already worked on, they should have very good reasons for it. Fifteen years ago, Dhruv Mookerji directed it in a straightforward manner, letting the play speak for itself. This time, Chowdhury bills his “derectorial [sic] venture” intriguingly as “Sexuality to turn the tables? Justified!” He casts women in the roles of Goldberg and McCann, which narrows the interpretation to female avengers, virtually the Furies, hunting down Stanley for sexual crime. Although within the possibilities of Pinter’s ambiguity, this concept suggests political incorrectness, since Pinter probably never imagined women as the agents of the retributive menace and violence: his two men represent a system like the Matrix, lobotomizing a dissenter or non-conformist.

Zahid Hussain acts suitably pulverized as Stanley, under the dominating Goldberg (Ishani Priyadarshini) and an unnecessarily second-fiddle McCann (Sneha Malakar), while Anushree Tarapdar studiously bridges the age gap for the much older Meg. Strangely, Chowdhury disregards the pregnant Pinter pause, and his recent fascination with mime results in a totally superfluous performer, who also doubles as furniture.

Shriek of Silence’s Error 404 was forgettable. Four party animals get trapped on a rooftop because the door to it locks shut behind them – an interesting idea, rendered incredible because they left their mobiles downstairs. Ritwika Chaudhuri’s debut script and direction degenerated into an excuse for dissolution, as the characters imbibed alcohol and the vaguely sweet smell of a certain weed wafted audience-ward. What next in the name of realism, I asked myself?

(From The Telegraph, 14 October 2017)