The trending two-part plays

A new trend on the British stage is of two-part plays, each complete in itself, yet interlinked in characters and plot.

Published: 09th September 2018 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th September 2018 06:39 PM   |  A+A-

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Imperium.

A new trend on the British stage is of two-part plays, each complete in itself, yet interlinked in characters and plot. In many ways it’s similar to a movie prequel and sequel.

Of course, George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra have often been staged back to back by the same company on consecutive days. It was this idea that gave rise to the famous Elizabeth Taylor film Cleopatra, which combined both the scripts into a compelling three-hour film. But now writers are conceptualising two scripts that go together.

A few years ago in London and New York, popular novel Wolf Hall was brought to stage in two parts. Based on the tumultuous times of the Tudors, it drew packed audiences. This year a new production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Imperium, now playing on London’s West End, tracks the career of the Roman philosopher and leader of the senate, Cicero.

Based on a trilogy of novels, the production attempts to comment on the present international political scenario, including Trump! It is amazing to see so many connections between Roman history and the world. In India, only Mahesh Elkunchwar has attempted a similar form, creating three plays on the members and conflicts of Wada Chirebandi.   

Elsewhere in London at the iconic National Theatre on the South Bank, a new production, Exit the King opened. Over 50 years after it was written, this absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco marks the last few days in the life of an imaginary king and his two queens. Ionesco’s genre of writing emerged from the nihilistic, existential philosophy of Jean Paul Satre after World War-II.

Play after play, he created metaphors for the modern condition. National Theatre’s first-ever production of this European genius comes half a century late, and the production fails to capture the essence of Ionesco’s writing. Instead, it focuses on the comic buffoonery of the servants of the palace, the two warring wives and the other chessboard-like characters. The production is lavishly mounted on an elaborate set. Yet it fails to engage the audience.

In the same month (August), Delhi witnessed Atul Kumar’s latest caper Detective Number Nau Do Gyarah. Every work of this Mumbai director is marked by tremendous finesse of production, acting style and design. After foraying into adaptations of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Piya Beharoopiya) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Khwab Sa), Atul brings to us his ode to the Hindi noir cinema of 40s and 50s. With style and substance, the play delights and entertains.

In a fast-moving, action-packed production, the story follows the madcap adventures of the central character, a detective as he encounters a number of femme fatales. Choreographed movement, zany,  and an acting style between parody and pastiche mark this trail-blazing production. Another feather in Aadhyam’s cap.

The writer is a Delhi-based theatre directorfeisal.alkazi@rediffmail.com

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