No Dumbness Whatsoever!

A Brief History of The Pantomimes

 A Review by Vijay K Sharma


A Still from the Play

If one were to experience the essence of theatre, omit or minimize the externals, such as the stage setting and other props; or stylize everything to the extent that the experience does not resemble anything one would expect sitting in the theatre. In the case of The Brief History of The Pantomimes, one experiences both of these. The first City Theatre Foundation productions are known for their experimental nature, but in this play, not only the plot and the properties, but also the very essence of theatre, that is, dialogues are more or less done away with. And there lies the art of theatre. Director Neel Choudhari does not do it for the sake of doing it, but because he wants the audience to pay attention and one would not miss what is not there. In fact, one redefines one’s range of expectations and enjoys the experience of communication and action without any dialogue.

Neel Chaudhari, who is also the writer of the script, creates the play out of his own experience of watching the companionship of some musicians one evening without uttering a word but communicating nevertheless. This leads him to, in his own words, “conceiving a story in which the subject related very directly to the form I wanted to explore, or was the form, in fact – a story about a fictional group of people who do not speak at all. Playfully referred to as 'The Pantomimes' in the play, this group would not be defined as a sect, cult or religion. In fact, the reasons for their enforced silence should necessarily remain a mystery through the play. The narrative would be a curiosity into how they live and interact in the speaking world, the situations that make sense of their existence, and those that ultimately reveal the irrationality of their position and hurl them towards extinction.” Chaudhari observes that “A Brief History of The Pantomimes is a fictional biography of a group of people who decided not to speak in their daily lives. The play is a reconstruction of their story - their means of living and communication, their interactions with the speaking world and the circumstances that isolated them. It presents scenes plucked out of their history, but apparently coloured by the perception and conjecture of their fictitious biographers.”

One is ushered inside the small studio theatre with some props geometrically arranged on the stage. Here comes the Director with his request to the audience to switch off their cell phones, not by way of any announcement, but by demonstrating the act suggestively with his own cell phone. The shadows of coming events are cast and expectations of the audience stirred!

The ‘brief history’ is presented with the help of eight episodes and ten mute characters. The first one is the family dinner where a range of relationships and emotions are displayed—all with gestures and body movements. The audience is mesmerized. The next one is about lovers, their intense feelings of love, jealousy and violence. The third one is about a unique communication (or is it the lack of it?), between a music-obsessed husband and his perfume devoted wife with her toileteries. The audience actually smells each of the different perfumes as these are mysteriously sprayed with the woman’s action of trying them out one after the other. The next one is a party scene in which one enjoys oneself with drinks, dance, seduction, gay abandon, liberation, homosexuality and then, of all things, a dog straying in! In the fifth episode, there is a very powerful evocation of extremely cold weather and human warmth, passion, nay, heat and homosexuality. The next one is the recreation of images of victims, torture, its injustice, their helplessness and abomination in a torture house with three victims and their nemesis. The penultimate episode depicts a rain scene, human warmth, passion, jealousy, betrayal and finally murder. The last one depicts the act of being scared in darkness. This is the ‘brief history’ of the ‘pantomimes’! A large number of human emotions are displayed through the episodes, notably those of human love, passion, homosexuality and death. One is simply left dumbfounded and completely mesmerized. What a unique and powerful presentation! At the end of the play there is a pleasant surprise gift too--an invitation to a refreshing glass of wine or a cup of hot soup!

Devised and developed by The First City Theatre Foundation through a six-week workshop, A Brief History of The Pantomimes succeeds in what it sets out to do---an effort to push the conventions of English theatre in India and present original stimulating work for the theatre audience in Delhi.

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