Neel Chaudhry



Theatre Workshop to evolve the play

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.

Devised and developed by The First City Theatre Foundation through a six-week workshop with ten actors, A Brief History of The Pantomimes follows The Foundation's earlier productions (Mouse, Positions and Good Hands/Godspeed) in an effort to push the conventions of English theatre in India and present original stimulating work for the theatre audience in Delhi.

A few years ago, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, I observed a street scene. Some musicians sat together at the end of the day and shared a smoke. None of them said a word for the longest time. In the middle they smiled a little while observing a fight erupt between
street dogs. And then someone else joined them. It was immediately evident that he was an outsider. Something was spoken, everything changed body language, chemistry, the energy in the air. Very soon the musicians dispersed.  

While working on The First City Theatre Foundation's first original production, Positions, I initially had the idea to enforce a 'silence' on the actors, at least as far as dialogue went. Due to the structure and logistics of that play, the idea was eventually dropped but the possibilities lingered what must it be like to perform or indeed watch a play without dialogue between characters where performance and communication are solely explored through the body (gesture and movement) and the rest of the theatrical apparatus sound, music, light. Also could this at all be possible without stylisation? Stylisation is perhaps too convenient an exercise. And what sort of content would be right for such a form? Of course, I am sure these questions have been posed and answered before but not by me, or indeed by my peers on the Delhi theatre circuit. Most of the theatre we watch in the city is verbose (bedroom farces) or overtly stylised (Erendira), or both (most productions of Shakespeare) ... Is there an alternative?  

I began to find answers in 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.

I also thought to write/develop it as a fictional biography or, more accurately, as a series of reflections, theories and opinions. These are communicated through anonymous voice-overs that play between the scenes, each lasting a couple of minutes and tying the various scenes in the narrative together.

is an original production
Neel Chaudhuri

Producer: The First City Theatre Foundation
Akshara Theatre, Baba Kharak Singh Marg (next to RML Hospital)

Date / Timings
15, 16, 21, 22, 23 November 2008 | Evening shows everyday at 7:30 PM; Matinee Shows on 16 and 23 November at 2:00 PM


Editor: Manohar Khushalani

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