On Monday evening, the Thrissur-based Remembrance theatre group performed its famed play ‘Higuita’ in Fort Kochi. The play, based on the much acclaimed short story of the same title by N S Madhavan, was performed at Cabral Yard in the presence of the eminent writer on the occasion of the World Theatre Day (March 27). The event was organised as part of the ongoing fifth edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale.
After the one-and-a-half hour performance, Madhavan was all praise for the theatre adaptation of his story. He said he viewed it as an independent creative work and it was a great experience. The director of the play, Sasidharan Naduvil, was all thankful to the writer and the audience, but not very happy. He said he was sad that the play could not be performed the way he wanted it. He blamed the lack of facilities for a theatre performance in Kerala. He was right about the space constraints of the Fort Kochi venue, for a play designed to be held in an open ground.
The audience had a tough time finding the right perspective as the drama was played out in an open stage which took the shape of a football ground with goalposts on both ends. The director cannot, however, put the blame entirely on the venue for what turned out to be a lagging performance which depends disproportionately on the written text. Whether you see the play as an adaptation or an independent work, there are some fundamental issues in the way the project is designed. It looked like the director, despite his ambitious plan to make a theatre experience of grand scales out of the literary masterpiece, was constantly pulled back by a tendency to stick to the written text.
Higuita, published in 1990, remains a gem of a short story in which Madhavan has brilliantly blended football with faith. It’s about a man’s passion for the game which he had to sacrifice but remained alive deep within him, and a girl’s sufferings and survival. It’s set in a Kerala village and south Delhi. It’s a sober narrative with a climatic high. It’s a story so dear to the writer that he was unable to take in the fact that someone made a film with the same title.
The main problem with Naduvil’s theatre version of the story is that it looked like almost a word-to-act translation, not a transcreation. The story is literally read out on the stage by multiple narrators as a convenient scene-setting measure. Then there are sequences played out at length and in size (42 actors make the crowds); perhaps aimed at creating a spectacle, but in vain. Be it the football matches or the funeral procession or a village gathering, it’s doubtful whether the crowds and the chaos served the intended purpose. Actions happening on different spots only resulted in unwarranted distraction.
There are scenes where Naduvil employed suggestive techniques and devices to evoke the intended results ad they work out too. The placement of Higuita – the legend Colombian goalkeeper – as a vague figure in dim light as a manifestation of Father Gee Varghese’s unfailing admiration for him is one such moment. The huts the dancing tribespeople carried on their shoulder offered a visual experience only theatre could. It was perfect theatre when Gee Varghese assembled a couple of wooden pieces into a scooter in quick moves and started his climatic ride. But then, the next moment the beauty of the entire act was lost as a real scooter was brought onto the stage unnecessarily.
The action in the climax and the ‘call for action’ that followed also exposed the play’s penchant for unwarranted explaining. History is that the play was originally designed to be a 30-minute performance and it was expanded to a larger production at a later stage. A wrong move, perhaps.