Bangalore based theatre group, Rafiki, is doing a run of The Memorandum, as a tribute to the playwright, Vaclav Havel. The former first president of the Czech Republic is known for his essays, poems and plays, and later as an outspoken political dissident against Russian communist forces.
Havel is also an internationally renowned statesman and champion of human rights and the play is a tribute to him. “I read his play four or five years ago and it left an impression on me. I kept going back to read it again and again. There was a certain reality or trueness that it exuded every time I read it,” says Sachin Gurjale, the director of the play, about his choice. Havel was also among the most important East European dissident writers of the Cold War period.
As far as adaptations are concerned Gujrale maintains that though there were a few improvisations, he did not meddle with the story line. “His play has no reference to time or space. It is right here and right now,” says the director about the play that is infused with humour. Speaking about the genre of the play, he adds that it was Havel’s belief, that a play must have a tinge of humour. The play’s humour is kind of absurd and tragic. “It condemns you to laugh at your own sad state of affairs,” says the director.
Keeping to Havel’s political credentials, the play starts in an unnamed organisation where a lone man appears to be the victim of bureaucratic tyranny, when a new, scientific, artificial language called ‘Ptydepe’ is imposed on all the employees. He rebels against Ptydepe from the very beginning using his principles, reason, authority and even compromise; only to be put down time and again by the powers at ‘play’. Gujrale also mentions that the play has an intriguing facet to it. “It exhibits portrays how language can influence a certain mind set,” he adds. The Memorandum lends magnificently to newer and more relevant interpretations today. In its basest level, anyone who has spent a reasonable time in an organisation will relate to the mind-numbing bureaucratic loops that one is forced to ride upon. As a simple understanding level, The Memorandum is a farcical play about bureaucracy, and the futility of working in a system where rules are seemingly designed to dampen individuality and the human spirit. Mr Gross is a man of authority in an office, and one day he finds a memo on his desk that reads like gibberish. On investigation, he realizes that a new synthetic language called “Ptydepe” is being enforced in the organization to improve office communication and productivity And the play treats all this with great lightness and humour that makes it a wholesome entertainer.
A political prisoner whose writings were banned in his country, Havel resisted totalitarianism in influential essays, speeches, and popular underground plays. His relentless political activism and avant-garde plays established him as a leading voice of protest against the repressive communist government of Czechoslovakia during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. His equally well known “Vanek” trilogy in the 1970’s—Audience, Private View and Protest — has the protagonist, Vanek, as a dissent writer who witnesses the degrading forces of corruption, false ideology, and socioeconomic coercion and is said to be loosely based on the author himself. The Memorandum is one of Havel’s most famous plays, winning the Obie awards in 1967-68. The play is directed by Sachin Gurjale and features—Niren Saldanha, Kanchan Bhattacharyya, Pritham Kumar, Lekha Naidu, Ashish D’Abreo, Anshul Pathak, Vinod Ravindran, Rebecca Spurgeon and Deepika Arwind.