CHENNAI: Soft yet firm drum beats and fading theatre lights welcomed us as we entered Spaces, Besant Nagar. Five men in ancient Greek attire moved in synchronized patterns to the beats of the drum, which set the stage for the rest of the evening.
We were witnessing a play that was first staged in 458 BC – Agamemnon, the first of the three linked tragedies that made up The Oresteia, a trilogy by playwright Aeschylus. The play has been translated into Tamil by M R Jambunathan and directed, designed and choreographed by theatre practitioner Regin Rose as a part of his theatre group Medai’s first production.
The play unfolds at Agamemnon’s (played by Rajeev Anand) palace in Argos, where a beacon of light signals the defeat of Troy to all those in Argos including his Queen Clytemnestra (Porkodi). The various segments of the good old Koothupattrai-like play — from the Greek victory at Troy, the killing of Iphigeneia (Sutharshi), to the killing of Agamemnon at the end, were diligently woven with live music by Samana Raja and lighting by C Raveendran.
Talking to City Express about the idea of adapting a Greek play in Tamil, Regin said, “I read this play about five years back and the fact that an innocent life — Iphigeneia, the daughter of Agamemnon himself, was sacrificed for his own benefit disturbed me,” he says, and adds that it reminded him of its relevance in the present world.
“How many innocent lives are being taken away due to the greed and agendas of others? That’s how I decided to do this play and formed a basic design of it,” explains the director, an alumnus of the National School of Drama. The play also reflects love, triumph, hatred and revenge. “The play has a lot of submissive feelings and emotions. We practiced the navarasas during rehearsals to bring out the best,” Porkodi says.
While many artists in the play were predominantly into realistic acting (what we see in movies), Regin said that they had to undergo eight months of training in Tai Chi, Kalaripayattu and other forms of martial arts. “It was important for actors to have the physical strength and body language to perform for over an hour. Training was important and they used to train for over two hours and then get into rehearsals for the play,” he shares.
With the sweat washing away the face paint after a 90-minute long play, we caught up with the lead actor, Rajeev Anand, a software engineer turned full-time theatre artist. “I had to do a lot of research before I stepped on stage. Every time I am on stage, I have to think about leading an army of two lakh warriors. We read the play by Aeschylus and also the adaptation by Homer—The Iliad, which was made into the movie Troy (2004). This has been an exhilarating experience for all of us!” he smiles.
Regin is all praises for M R Jambunathan, who translated the play into Tamil in just eight days. “When you translate a play, it’s important to hold the original essence and also understand the background,” explains Jambunathan. “I referred a few BBC productions of the play and made sure I did justice to it.”
Smiling in admiration, Regin adds, “I can’t thank him enough for giving us this work. I am extremely happy with the way the play has turned out.”
The group will be performing 10 more shows of the play in Chennai and are also planning to be a part of theatre fests around India.
Catch the play on July 17 at Spaces, Besant Nagar from 7pm.