The Sabhagar Theatre Festival laudably turned annual this year, and hosted three international shows. Monologuist Daniel Bye, brought by British Council, called his The Price of Everything a “performance lecture”, but left his Going Viral undefined. Novel nomenclature or not, both emerged as contemporary variations on the oldest human community activity: storytelling. Bye does not perform in the sense of acting. His method constitutes presenting educative facts, which he gradually integrates into a piece of fiction.

Price of Everything has a rather plodding intro (director Dick Bonham, please note) connecting milk with its price, exemplifying how we attach monetary value to all products, but post-interval, Bye stunningly transcends the mundane by narrating the transformative potential of individuals buying cupfuls for the next person in a queue, creating a chain reaction of public generosity, until we realize that he actually means the milk of human kindness. He could take this further by alluding to barter economics before the invention of money. He could also read Badal Sircar’s childlike masterpiece, Beyond the Land of Hattamala, where two thieves enter a cashless Marxist (not Modi-ist) utopia.

Going Viral, at Sienna Cafe, begins with information on how viruses work, then segues into a situation where a flight from Uganda to England spreads a weeping sickness across the world. Only one passenger seems immune, becoming much sought-after. The scenario recalls too many sci-fi/contagion movies to impress us, leave alone inspire like Bye’s first production.

American director Jessica Litwak could not travel because of a last-minute medical emergency, but that fortuitously resulted in her direction by Skype (perhaps the first time in Kolkata?) of a devised script improvised by local actors Nivedita Bhattacharya, Pradip Mitra and Karanjit Singh, each asked to interview five people about what they feared the most. The trio dramatized some of these, like communal tension, the plight of old couples, harassment of women. I found that all the fears remained very personal, instinctive, related to self-preservation; nothing that threatened us as a race – whether fundamentalist extremism, nuclear war or climate change. Still, a thought-provoking experiment.

(From The Telegraph, 17 December 2016)