A ‘theatre island’ surrounded by a vast expanse of green paddy-fields is beckoning drama lovers to Chappakayal at Vallachira in the Thrissur district of Kerala. It has been created by noted director Sasidharan Naduvul as a tribute to his mentor, the late Jose Chirammal.
Designed in 4,000 square feet on a 34-cent plot, the island comprises a stage, auditorium and an accommodation facility for 10 people. Visitors can reach the place by walking across a wooden walkway from the tarred road.
The village of Vallachira is steeped in theatre. In fact, one can feel it even in the air of the place, thanks to the efforts of dramatists like Jose Chirammal and Sasidharan Naduvil. Currently, the activities at the island are being coordinated by the Remembrance Theatre Group formed by Sasidharan in 2011. At the island, training, practice and experiments in drama are carried out.
Work on the unique venue was launched in 2019 on land taken on lease for five years. Even though the project was scheduled to be completed in 2020, it was finally opened only in January 2021. In future, the organizers hope to purchase the land and expand the activities of the theatre island.
The theatre island is a dream-come-true for Sasidharan Naduvil, who wrote his first drama at age 15 while he was a student at CNN School, Cherpu. During his 57 years on the world’s stage, Sasidharan has directed over 450 dramas and recreated on stage around 30 classic works.
On the island, most of the actors are former students of NSS Engineering College, Palakkad. Sasidharan’s old drama students at Kerala Varma College, Thrissur; Christ College, Irinjalakuda; Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam and other institutions as well as theatre groups based in Australia and UAE where Sasidharan conducts classes extend support.
Upcoming projects of the island include a permanent stage for Remembrance Theatre Group, Jose Chirammal Sunday Theatre, Ritwik Ghatak Cinema Hall, Mullanezhi Literary Training Centre, C B Ashokan Memorial Folk Art Research Centre, Signature Theatre Movement, Women’s Theatre Group, Children’s Theatre Group and Habib Tanvir Drama Stage for senior citizens. At Natya Bharati, the stage for children, 15 youngsters would be trained every year. This would enable 75 children from Vallachira and nearby panchayats such as Cherpu, Avinissery, Nenmanikkara and Ollur to learn theatre art over the next five years.
Vallachira proved to be a fertile ground for theatre much largely due to the annual Onam celebrations organized by the panchayat since 1962. The celebrations have been regularly held every year, except in 2018 when the great floods affected the entire state. Jose Chirammal and Sasidharan, both local people, earned name and fame for Vallachira by engaging in full-time theatre and performing on stages around the world.
Plans for 2021
This year, the island is planning to stage 15 dramas. Five have been already performed as part of the inaugural event and the first one to be brought alive at the island was Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’. Another notable performance was the adaptation of N S Madhavan’s ‘Higuita’, which was staged on a football field created in an adjacent paddy-field where the crop was freshly harvested.
Other works in the pipeline are M K Sanu’s ‘Nakshatrangalude Premabhajanam’ and an eight-hour adaptation of Pearl S Buck’s ‘Good Earth’. The last drama to be staged in 2021 by the island, which is managed by a 31-member committee of theatre enthusiasts, will be ‘Pithala Salabham’, a creation relating to the history of Vallachira.