Poignant approaches to children encountering real-life trauma and disaster characterize two new plays in English and Bengali respectively. Young people’s theatre typically features fairytales, folklore or fantasy. But The Creative Arts’ When We Go Sailing struck me as one of the grittiest “children’s productions” in a long time because writer-director Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, conscious of how media visuals shock her wards every day, pushed them into the deep end of the pool, making them first understand and then enact how kids worldwide may suddenly become homeless and displaced.

In her imaginary country, a family of a minority community celebrates a birthday, but the happiness collapses when word spreads that mobs are targeting that community. They manage to escape but also lose some members in the shooting. In a refugee camp, they must adjust to conditions completely the opposite of how they used to live. In a stunning climax, the cast create a tableau of a boat on the high seas, evoking agonizing recent images of children who drowned after falling overboard, their bodies washed ashore. The entire team merits effusive encores.

Frankly Speaking Theatre Group’s Priya Pāthsālā presents a distant village decimated by a cyclone that killed all the children. The tragedy seems to have driven their headmaster mad, for he continues to open the school daily to teach what he says are the pupils’ spirits, still eager to learn. Sukanta Gangopadhyay’s script starts off like a ghost story, as a new teacher arrives and discovers that his predecessors did not last a single day. Then come the headmaster’s peculiarities and the deserted school, where he, too, begins to hear voices and see shadows. Eventually it becomes educational allegory, for Gangopadhyay implies that thousands of rural children cry out for good education but do not get it, while schools exist but go empty from a lack of dedicated faculty.

Director Rimi Majumder could improve the show by compressing the digressive first half and tightening scene changes, as well as giving her own role as the headmaster’s daughter greater justification, because the idealistic teacher grows rather too abruptly close to her at the end.

(From The Telegraph, 22 July 2017)