London is always bursting at the seams with exciting events. But there is one annual fringe theatre festival that is close to my heart – A Season of Bangla Drama. This is now in its thirteenth year and is running from the 1st till the 29th of November 2015; bringing a programme of the best new talent in theatre, dance & music to London’s East End.
The organisers have asked me to review and blog about this year’s plays. And as with every year, it’s an absolute honour for me to engage with a festival I would encourage everyone to attend. It’s a month of discovering emotions within you that you may have never felt before, and watching the stage come alive with colour, powerful delivery, rhythm, and storytelling that continues to enrich our community.
Dampati (The Couple)
On Sunday, in Venue 1, a wonderful theatre space in the RichMix, we were transported to a Kolkota set in the 1980’s.
Written by Manoj Mitra and Directed by Dr Arpita Ray, this comic tale revolves around the notions of expectation in a materialistic era, of responsibility, and of trust between couples across two generations. It dissects marital behaviour into layers of meaning and questions motives and actions. It deconstructs the meaning and value of family and concepts of loyalty. Satirical, yet poignant, many universal truths are revealed in this play about the human condition, society and the joys and lows of the domestic environment in which case many stories go unheard.
Dampati (The Couple) is based on daily life of two couples and intertwines with other stories and relations. An elderly couple live at their ancestral home. They have two children living abroad. Their daily life is supported by an elderly housemaid and old family friend who is a doctor and visits them often. The family friend is not married and the elderly couple are like family to him.
In the same house, a young couple live as a tenants. They have only been married for three years. Both of them are working and trying their best to work their way up the career ladder. The couple have conflicting expectations. The husband keen to focus on his career and keen for his wife to also do the same. For him, having a child will prevent their financial and ambitious goals. His wife on the other hand wants to start a family and desires more time with her husband so going forward a child and their bond is the priority. These clashing differences initiate arguments, insecurity and also trust issues. This is further aggravated when an old female friend gets back in touch with the husband, who, in his frustration with the state of his current life, wants to escape into a nostalgic moment of a bygone stage in his life.
This play explores and questions our human expectation, responsibility, and trust within our relationship. The trans-generational script of the play dissects life in layers pushing us to question the true definition of love, trust, respect, values and desire.
These themes come through very well throughout the play through various approaches. The play opens with a well used stage consisting of a projector with an image of a window and the scene outside, a set of doors on synergising the outdoor environment with that of the indoors. And also allowing for great movement throughout the play. The colours, costumes and props were very well thought out for each scene. The acting was equally engaging and very good. With a strong narrative, the pressure for the actors to connect with the audience and ensure they were laughing, feeling and empathising throughout is not an easy feat. But each actor brought a wonderfully relatable energy to the piece and also a depth of emotion. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the elderly couple had a playful but powerful relationship, constantly finding ways to annoy each other and despite their insecurities, poor health or daily rants, the strength in their bond was obvious. These nuances were well delivered. I also enjoyed the ease in which the actors delivered the varying degrees of emotion. It was natural and I felt connected which, as a viewer, is very important.
However, in the same breath, there are pointers of change where I feel the production really could have benefited from. Without sounding too critical, I felt the entire piece was far too long. The story could have been delivered in a shorter time scale. Some scenes were longer than they needed to be with additional dialogue that would have been best reduced. The depth of emotion in those scenes would have been delivered more powerfully if the scenes were punchier.
It was a shame the English subtitles were at the bottom of the screen with props in front of it making it difficult to read the full sentences. Also on some occasions subtitles were repeated or incorrect. These were technical glitches that can happen at any situation but maybe better preparation for future productions.
The play at times did feel quite disjointed. For example, the audience clapped after each scene, so it felt like a series of comedy sketches, which is fine but I was not sure if it was intended. The clapping and format changed after the intermission as the narrative became more serious. This is all great if it was intended to be that way etc, but as a viewer I felt the style was not seamless throughout and the length and placement of an intermission didn’t help. Aside all of this, it was an important and commendable play. I hope my feedback (which in essence does not greatly impact the wonderful positive message of the production) can function simply as food for thought for future productions and I hope it serves as little nods to enhancing the details and timing of any plays the Essex Indians have in mind for the coming year.
Dampati ended on a hopeful, uplifting note. Reminding us about the significance of trust in a relationship, but most of all, the importance of the relationship itself in the scenery of life where ambitions, money, desire and personal insecurity are regular obstacles which should not shadow the value of the bond itself.
The desire to achieve materialistic goals is true for any society, any generation, in any time period. So, though this play was set in Kolkata 30 years ago, the morals and messages in this play are just as relevant and needed now as ever before.
© 2015 Shroomantics ~ Rahima Begum