His life in a small town and the quirky people he met there forms the heart of Paul Mathew’s monologue.
You don’t need emperors and generals to tell a good story; ordinary people have very interesting lives. Paul Mathew, one of the veterans of Perch, the city-based theatre company, says he realised this all the more clearly when he started writing his one-man play, Cheruvannur Diaries, in 2013. What began as an exercise—to write something on an object—soon became a trip down memory lane, to the 1980s, when he was a typewriter salesman in Cheruvannur, a small town in North Kerala. “Back then I didn’t realise how interesting the people were, as I was in the middle of it all. But as I looked back, I saw an interesting community with fascinating situations that were dramatic and often poignant,” he says, about the play he’ll be performing in the city this weekend.
Facing his fears
But, as it turns out, things got even more interesting when director Rajiv Menon read the script. Much to Mathew’s dismay, he felt the story suited a monologue better. “Being on stage with 10 other actors is scary, but being on stage by yourself is absolutely terrifying,” he laughs, recalling how the two of them had retreated to Red Earth Kabini in Mysuru, fine-tuned the performance (with Mathew almost throwing in the towel on day two) and rehashed the script in six days. They then performed it, with much trepidation, to the guests there. “But everyone liked it. And now I’ve done over 20 shows,” smiles the 63-year-old. The story is simple enough, following the lives of a cross-section of people—from the local drunks and the typewriter institute’s principal to the Romeos who hung around outside. The challenge was to keep the audience engaged. “We’ve adopted a very intimate style, almost like meeting someone by the fireside at a pub in Kodaikanal and sharing a few drinks and stories. But there also has to be a certain tension, a certain performance involved without it appearing to be a performed piece. That was tough,” Mathew shares.
Keeping it fluid
For the actor-scriptwriter, who has been doing theatre for over 48 years, studied technique isn’t as important as experiencing the here and now of the character. “All theatre is storytelling; it is about transferring an experience. This means there is a fluidity, a mutability, because in every show you are playing off the audience and feeding off what you are feeling right then,” he explains. And Mathew hasn’t let anything else interfere in this process. So there are no extra lights or sets, just a typewriter, a chair and the ubiquitous black umbrella. He doesn’t even wear make-up or a costume—his kurta and jacket sets him apart from the audience. As for youngsters today relating to typewriters, he quickly points me towards Tom Hank’s popular iOS app, Hanx Writer, and Kickstarter’s successful Qwerkywriter. Point taken!
At Crea Shakthi Studio, on Sunday, at 7 pm. Details: creashakthi.com
—Surya Praphulla Kumar