Mad About Drama, a national performing arts company, staged their debut production of A History of Butchers on the 29th of July, followed by another show on the 5th of August. Here is the review of the play from one of the members of the audience.
Play: A History of Butchers by Mad About Drama, Kolkata. A couple of hours, well spent.
I am a bit of an addict when it comes to theatre. Good, bad, indifferent, famous, unheard-of, big productions, medium or small, I tend to end up trying to go and watch all possible plays that I can.
As one can imagine, some of these experiences – end up being a lot better than others. And, I have found over time, that it is not always the ones you expect to pay off that actually do. I have been horribly disappointed by big names and “good” actors doing polished, professional productions of well-known plays. On the other hand, I have found incredible experiences and wonderful theatrical gems from relatively smaller, less popular, newer groups.
One of the more pleasant experiences was the visit to watch A History of Butchers by Mad About Drama, Kolkata. The play is a sort of re-imagining of The Just assassins – Les Justes by Albert Camus. The original was based on the true story of a group of Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries who assassinated the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich in 1905.
Camus’ play explores the moral/ethical issues around revolution, assassination, and terrorism, as well as universal human concepts like justice, love, “causes” and so on. Mad About Drama’s re-imagining of the play, (the script is not a straightforward adaptation, but a new creation taking off from the original) goes on step further. It unmoors the events from any kind of historical or specific social roots, and uses the concepts explored within to look at human nature across time.
I was, I must confess, a little apprehensive. I had almost blackmailed a couple of friends into going with me, and my most recent experiences with Kolkata theatre has not been particularly pleasant. This was a group I hadn’t heard of, composed mainly of youngsters I considered too young to have much depth (age-ist, I am ashamed to acknowledge), attempting a play far above their pay-grade. Ambitious at best, foolhardy at worst. I arrived at the venue with not much in the way of high expectations.
I left a couple of hours later, pleasantly surprised. Not only are the kids excellent actors, they also had excellent English diction (an essential when staging a play in English – without trying to subvert it with conscious local language influences for “political” reasons.) This is something I have often found jarring in plays in Kolkata, where they use English, or Hindi, or recently Marathi, and do not bother to find out the correct pronunciation of words, making it an extremely painful experience for people like me.
The stagecraft was good too. Lighting, music, relative positioning, and minimalist stage décor was effectively used to enhance and deepen the overall effect of the play. And yet, that wasn’t what I enjoyed the most. What stands out, and engages the audience, is the anachronism. A History of Butchers is not a historical “period piece” and so it floats in the limbo of non-time-all-time. The back and forth, modern references with historical, the feel of limbo, is what I really enjoyed.
There was one section that gave me pause, though. I found it a little distasteful, that Foka, (the jail keeper? Trustee inmate?) was apparently doing a black parody for no visible reason and without any clear political message. It seemed quite derogatory, in the whole black men are criminals way, that I find extremely disturbing, especially given the huge amount of violence – systemic and otherwise – that is being perpetrated on black people in the west right now.
I also found it quite unnecessary and a bit self-exhibitionary (showing off my skills?) that Foka suddenly breaks into song, wasting time in the second half, creating a bit of a jarring “brakes-on” kind of feeling, and destroying the tightness of the play so far. It was a bit like a Hindi film taking a break from breathtaking action for a dream sequence song and dance thingy, totally derailing the audience’s experience.
Apart from that though, I must say I walked out of the hall with an overall feel-good experience. On most parameters, the play was far better than I had expected. It is polished, well performed, well acted. The script is mostly tight. The stagecraft, lighting, music, etc are better than good. All in all, a couple of hours well spent, respect found for a new group (yes, I WILL be going to other plays they produce), and a mostly pleasant experience without any residual desire created for homicide – I would call that a success!
A History of Butchers returns on the 1st of October, at Gyan Manch. If you would like to pay a visit, you will find all the details about the event here : https://www.facebook.com/events/298643727169318/
About the Author :-
Jia is a freelance writer, editor, and translator, who is addicted to books, coffee, and good conversation. A long time theatre enthusiast, Jia has spent many a happy and fulfilled hour sitting in theatres from Music academy in Chennai, to Balgandharva Rangamandir in Pune, to Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. In fact some of Jia’s fondest theatre memories are of squatting in the aisles of Prithvi, immersing in amazing productions from around the world. Since moving to Kolkata, Jia has been doing the rounds of Theatre halls and performances here, and discovering what the city has to offer.