BANGALORE : A theatre fest named Going Solo, featuring acts from the Edinburgh Fringe, will hit the city this week. Two of the three plays have an underlying theme of disability, one from a perspective of a caretaker and another from a person with special needs.
Don’t Wake Me - The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong brings to audiences the journey of a mother, brought to life by TV actress Jaye Griffith, whose son has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, while If These Spasms Could Speak, will be performed by Robert Softley. The third play, or theatrical lecture as the actor Guy Masterson calls it, is Shylock, a relook at Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice from a Jewish perspective.
The artistes talk about their plays ahead of their Bangalore performances. Softley says that telling his story again can be tiring. “But then that’s the reason I do it. If it isn’t tiring then I’m not doing it.”
A disability rights activist, he adds that most of the stories aren’t his personal experiences, they’re of other people he’s met along the way as well. “I’ve adapted them to make the audience question whether or not I’m talking about myself,” he says, adding that he feels good theatre depends on personal stories.
The point of his shows, he clarifies, is not merely bringing forth the plight of the disabled. He uses humour to show to the audience that stories of disabled people ‘aren’t all sad or depressing’. He has chosen solo theatre as a medium for this because he believes that directly engaging with the audience helps deal with issues more sensitively.
Lahore-born Guy Slater and director of Don’t Wake Me..., on the other hand, says that the story of the play is author Rahila Gupta’s. “As a dramatist myself, I was able to help and guide the author into making a play from her ballad. But it is her story, her heart,” he tells us.
In a country like India, where people are often indifferent to people with disability, does he think it will help sensitise people about issues that people with disability and their caregivers face? He replies with, “I hope so but (I) would not presume to speak for Indian audiences. Human experience is international!”
Guy Masterson, who will speak sometimes as Shylock’s friend Tubal and sometimes as Shylock -- the only two Jewish men in Shakespeare’s works — says that inhabiting the Jew in The Merchant... is interesting. “Playing such a controversial and tempestuous character like Shylock is extremely interesting to me. I particularly love all the historical research Gareth (Armstrong) has incorporated into the script.”
Armstrong performed the play for 10 years before directing Masterson. Ask the latter if he took inspiration from videos of his director’s performances, and he says, “I was Gareth’s original producer back in 1998 and saw his performance many times... but I deliberately avoided watching videos because it was important not to just copy what he did.”
Armstrong too was very careful about imposing what he used to do on Masterson, he adds. “In order for a performance to truly live, it needs to evolve from the individual actor. The result was that my performance was much more humorous than his. His, more cerebral. He loved it. He told me he didn’t think he was a funny writer. I told him he wasn’t!” he shares.
Masterson, known for his solo shows, says that Shylock is among the best texts he’s been fortunate enough to work with. Others, he cites, include Animal Farm, Under Milk Wood and Fern Hill.
'If These Spasms Could Speak' on Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 'Shylock' on Thursday; 'Don’t Wake Me ...' on Friday and Saturday at Ranga Shankara