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    Masquerade makes a case for serious drama with The Island,a play that’s been in production for a decade

    It Is almost a decade since Chennai theatre group, Masquerade, began the production of The Island. But for various reasons, it was shelved. The play by South African playwright Athol Fugard was first performed in 1973, during the Apartheid regime. Now, as part of the 54th World Theatre Day (March 27), Masquerade’s artistic director Krishna Kumar Santhanagopalan, or KK as he is popularly known, is finally staging it. “The Island is very relevant today, when we are dealing with RTI, civil society activism, whistle blowing, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, etc,” says KK, who hasn’t watched the original yet—he wants to wait until he’s done producing this.

    Following the plot
    “The Island is about two prisoners serving life sentences on Robben Island (the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned),’’ adds KK. ‘‘They go through a harrowing daily work routine, depending on the whims and fancies of the wardens. Ironically, they are also rehearsing for a performance of Sophocles’ Antigone—a play against oppression—in order to make a statement about their condition and rights to exist, to freedom of expression.” In 1973, when Fugard staged the play with his two coloured actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, it broke ground. Its London premiere brought a lot of attention to the issues of apartheid and racism in South Africa. But in today’s scenario, where a play like Ali J (Evam’s production about Jinnah in prison) was banned, would The Island upset sentiments? KK isn’t worried. “Personally, I feel nothing can create unrest in Chennai except Neil Simon and S Ve Shekher. Or perhaps Shekher and Crazy Mohan walking together in Phoenix Mall,” he laughs.

    But seriously?
    Shrivatz Agaram and Aravind R Vyaas, two of Masquerade’s new breed of actors, will be helming this two-hander. “They are attempting a full length role like this for the first time, so they have been training a lot. But we do need to take risks, otherwise art will be innocuous and tepid—like the run-of-the-mill theatre in Chennai. There’s no serious ideology or politics in theatre here,” says KK, who wants to bring serious drama back to Chennai and give audience a break from “cosmetic theatre”. Incidentally, Masquerade’s next production, in June (also their 20th anniversary production), will be Antigone. Drawing largely from Sophocles’ original, it will also have material from poets and dramatists like Friedrich Hölderlin, Bertolt Brecht and Jean Anouilh. “Having done two heroine-centric Greek classics (they debuted with Electra in 1994 and did Medea in 1999-2000), I have been waiting for the right opportunity to do Antigone. Now my cast actually wants it,’’ he says.

    The Island is strictly for a mature audience. At T N Rajarathinam Auditorium, today and tomorrow at 7.15 pm. Passes (Rs. 200, Rs. 300, and three for Rs. 250) are available at eventjini.com. Details: 9940542821

    -Mrinalini Sundar

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