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An absorbing adaptation

With ``Richard III," Magic Lantern takes forward its commitment to theatre on a spectacular scale, observes KAUSALYA SANTHANAM.


``Pattam''... riveting performance.

THE RUTHLESSNESS employed by one man to reach the throne and the manner in which he schemes, lies and kills to achieve his ends make up the plot of ``Pattam." A Tamil adaptation of William Shakespeare's historical drama, ``Richard III," ``Pattam" is being staged by the Magic Lantern Group at the YMCA Open Air auditorium from July 11 to 14. The Press show was held at the same venue on the evening of July 10. The play translated from the original by Padmanabhan was directed, like the group's previous production ``Ponniyin Selvan," by Pravin. Richard's villainy has been projected in such a horrific way by Shakespeare that the viewer/reader is riveted by the picture of unredeemed evil.

The Wars of the Roses, between the Houses of Lancaster and York, in England came to an end when Henry Tudor ascended the throne after defeating Richard of York in the Battle of Bosworth. Horseless, crownless, Richard meets his doom and Nemesis catches up with a man who in his lust for power mows down all those whom he considers a threat. ``Richard III" from its first performance in the 16th century is said to have been a crowd puller with successive generations of skilled actors playing the role with interpretative shades ranging from melodramatic intensity to psychological subtlety. Magic Lantern's version sought to draw parallels between the political climate of that time and that of the present day where politics and power play are the arenas for plots and counterplots, succession struggles and ruthless elimination. The tussle here is between the Simha clan and the Soorya clan. And Richard is Mara Varman who is responsible for eliminating Veera Kesari (Henry VI) and his son. He then works his way up to the throne disposing of his own elder brother, Gunasekara Varman (Duke of Clarence) manipulating his death in a way that leads to the demise of his eldest brother Amarendra Varman (King Edward IV). He overcomes the resistance of Veera Kesari's daughter-in-law, Thamarai (Anne), and marries her and later becomes king. Veera Kesari's lieutenant Vikrama Kesari (Duke of Richmond and later HenryVII) finally defeats him in battle and his bloody trail comes to an end.

As in ``Ponniyin Selvan," the most imaginative feature in the play was the introduction of two characters — Vamsa Markhan (E. Kumaravel) and Vamsa Moorkhan (KSK Prasad) who act as commentators and clowns. The actors performed their roles with an admirable level of energy. The play was a loose adaptation (by Kumaravel) of Shakespeare's work. It was transposed quite smoothly into the Tamil milieu through the names, dialogue (playscript: Rooban), fine music (KSK Prasad and his team) and costumes (Nalini Sriram). The sets by Thotaa Tharani were brilliant in their simplicity. The grey walls adorned with brackets, the arched doorways and the barred gate leading away from the proscenium were all that were needed to convey palace, battlefield and prison. The lights by T. Bala were in consonance. In contrast to the elegance of the sets, the costumes were cumbersome and in a mélange of colours and styles. The actors seemed to be impeded in their movements by the yards of silk and zari and the footwear did not blend in with the rest of the attire especially the women's. Pravin lived up to his promise of providing theatre on a massive scale. In his use of space and his conception of the scenes and action Pravin showed how skilled he is in directing a historical.

The acting of the title role by J. Jayakumar was superb. He carried off a very difficult role brilliantly. Richard's cunning, his hypocrisy and his evil intent were brought out by the actor who introduced the farcical element in his role to lend it greater conviction. The play rested on his shoulders and he was able to carry it off. The scenes of battle were extremely well choreographed by Pasupathi who played the role of Vikrama Kesari.

Although almost all the actors, especially Mu. Ramaswamy, emoted well (the cast was 38 strong) the play's fatal flaw was the diction. The actors often tripped over their difficult lines. More rehearsals were clearly called for. The enunciation of dialogue by the Queen Mother Gnanavalli elicited sniggers from a section of the audience. Thithli as Thamarai had a good stage presence but needs to work on her diction. The latter half of the play could do with some tightening. The event coordination and organisation support were by Nalini Iyer of Media Mix and Aruna Subramaniam.

Shakespeare's plays offer a wide choice for any group to adapt. One wondered why ``Richard III" was chosen. In ``Ponniyin Selvan" there are so many strands that can be woven together and the local milieu gave the production its power and punch. ``Pattam" revolves totally around the central character and one heinous act succeeds another and yet another. But once again one was struck by how well Shakespeare-based texts vault over language barriers owing to the universality of thought and the unparalleled dramatic constructs. With ``Richard III," Magic Lantern takes forward its commitment to theatre on a spectacular scale and the play kept one completely absorbed. As the applause rang out, one felt happy that there is a group in Chennai, which through such massive efforts brings theatre magic back into our lives.

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