NEW DELHI: The concoction seemed dubious at first but then became exceptionally intriguing. Could it really be an elixir for George’s grandmother’s ferocious temper, everybody around the boy wondered. What’s the harm in trying, he told himself. So, he went around the house pouring every kind of liquid, power and potion into a huge saucepan to make this medicine. “Does this make him a naughty boy or the next prize winning scientist, you’ll have to find out once you watch the play, George’s Marvelous Medicine,” says its Director, Phil Clark.
It was rather easy for Clark to tell George’s story. After all, like the kid, he too was born and bred in the countryside surrounded by trees and fields. Both of them lead a simple life that gave them all the satisfaction they had yearned for. “A puddle becomes a raging river, a stick becomes a sword, the wind became a storm. Every animal and insect you come across, brought with it, strange worlds which you wanted to discover more about,” according to the director, who finds cities claustrophobic, and parks a poor substitute for open fields.
The play is being presented by The Birmingham Stage Company that chose to tell a story written by one of the most prolific authors of children’s books—Roald Dahl. Putting it on stage is another celebrated director— Clark himself—who has skilfully treated a children’s narrative without it looking childish.
It has always amazed him how much people underestimate children. “For example, it’s considered accepted wisdom that children can’t concentrate anymore, but this is nonsense,” he exclaims, adding,
“This play lasts for an hour and forty five minutes and kids have no problem. They can deal with
sophisticated and complex themes, so long as the story is clearly told. The only difference is that children enjoy colour, physicality, spectacle, fun, repetition, and silly jokes.”
Working on children’s pieces has a huge advantage in the eyes of the director. One immediately gets to know how the story is being received. “When adults get bored, they sleep. Children don’t know this convention so when they get bored they talk, throw sweets and go to the toilet, making it easy for us to know when we’ve lost them,” he says. Thus, he always sit at the back of the theatre during the show to gauge the audience reaction.
Contrary to what we are seeing and experiencing today, that technology is shortening our attention span, the director feels that children’s fascination with live actors is undimmed, however much modern technology is throw at them. Through the medium of theatre, and the performing arts in general, we impart knowledge of lasting and engaging kind. “While we need architects and engineers to build infrastructure, we also need creative people to think how the infrastructure will be made.
Theatre gives them imagination which is needed to equip them to face the world when they grow up and also to use their creativity and imagination in every work space,” says Pooja Chauhan, Vice Chairperson of Amity Humanity Foundation. The Amity University is bringing the theatrical from the UK to India in aid of her foundation in order to expose children to high standards of theatre and culture.
Storytelling’s outreach has been propelled to the forefront by many stand- alone storytelling initiatives in the past decade. Their singular purpose has been to dispel the notion that stories are just for kids. Studies have proven how storytelling can make you a better listener, improve attentiveness, encourage imagination and make cognition stronger. “The problem with adults is that they find it hard to suspend disbelief. We become arrogant and consider ourselves to know everything.
We cannot deal with being challenged. Storytelling through theatre can grab the attention of adults,” he says. The starting point is to accepting that most theatre is sub-standard, according to him. The right kind of theatre is one that promotes wholesome understanding of the phenomenon called being human.
February 4, 5 and 6, at 10.30 am and 6.30 pm, Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi.