Mark Fisher looks forward to the return of India’s Naya Theatre for the first time in over a decade.
Tramway programmer Neil Wallace tells a story of when he was in India to watch Naya Theatre rehearse in the suburban Delhi garage that has served as the company's base for the past 30 years. The garage is owned by founder and director Habib Tanvir and it sits in the midst of a high-rise housing development which was under construction when Wallace arrived. If the authorities have their way, Tanvir‘s property will one day also be ﬂattened by the bulldozers.
So. sitting in the shadow of the emergent buildings, Wallace started to watch the company run through extracts from its 4(l-play repertoire to the relentless sound of construction-site machinery. But as the rehearsal got under way. something odd happened. Pulling himself back from the performance, Wallace noticed that an eerie silence had descended. Raising his eyes to the nascent tower blocks above. he saw perched from the scaffolding on all four sides enrapt in the performance. the entire building-site workforce.
It's that kind of pulling power that helped win Naya Theatre a Fringe First when it performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1980 and 1981 and which convinced Wallace that it was worth meeting the cost of bringing the 40-strong company required for the newest show, Eyes are Watching, to Tramway. The latter is one of four productions by the company in a week of performances, workshops and discussions. which Wallace hopes will pave the way for a Tramway Indian season in the not too distant future.
As is commonly the case in India, Naya Theatre has
no regular building to perform in, but since the company was formed in 1959, it has managed to achieve an international standing, including the admiration of Peter Brook. Having largely broken away from the stuffy traditions imposed by British colonialism, popular theatre in India typically mixes music, song, dance and drama, and in this Naya is no exception. The emphasis on beautiful visuals and the clarity ofthe story-telling have made Wallace confident that although the plays are performed in a Hindi dialect, no simultaneous translation should be necessary.
Drawing on traditional Eastern legends, but open enough to pick up on Moliere. Lorca and Shakespeare. the plays and productions of Tanvir have developed a strong interest in folk drama, working in various dialects and exploring traditional Indian music and dance. Despite the Indian govemment’s stated support of the folk arts, the work of Naya Theatre has always been done on a shoestring. Things have improved since they lavished a whole thirteen Rupees on the set of their ﬁrst play in I957, but even now the average pay for an actor is only a quarter of that earned by the lowest paid performers in the big reps.
As well as the directorial genius of the 70-year-old
Tanvir himself, the company’s great strength lies in its close-knit operation and its genuine sense of community. The actors often live, eat and work together and remain committed to the company for years, even decades. on end. ‘Nowhere in the history of theatre have artistes stayed on with one group for 20—30 years,’ Tanvir told The Times of India a couple of years ago. ‘Even with stalwarts like Peter Brook and Elia Kazan, the actors don’t stay for more than ﬁve years. But where would these folks go? Bombay? There is no work for them there, though they are great actors. Everybody recognised them as big artistes but no one wants to work with them. This absence of opportunities may be my gain, but it is a poor comment on theatre.’
The four plays coming to Tramway range from the tale of a professional robber who always sticks to the promise made to his guru never to lie. in Charan the Thief. to a Sanskrit drama of politics and love in The Little Clay Cart. In addition there is the newest piece, Eyes are Watching, a play by Tanvir about a wam'or who saves his country but kills his own brother in the process, and Sasural. a satire about forced marriage and the rebelliousness of youth.
Naya Theatre, Tramway, Glasgow, Tue l—Sat 5 Jun.
it says a lot about the relative Impacts oi TV and theatre in this country that Iloy Barraclough is known ior one oi two roles. lle’s either Les Dawson’s dragged-up sidekick in the “Cissie and Ada’ sketches (they also do the voiceovers tor the Post Ofﬁce ads) or, more recently as Alec Gllroy, the conniving landlord oi The llover’s Return in Coronation Street.
This despite a long and illustrious career in the British theatre playing everything irom Willie loman through to his latest role as Dr Watson in
Tell Jack we need another crate oi Iidrt ales
Leslie Brlcusse’s Sherlock Holmes The Musical, currently at the Edinburgh
needing to do something dliierent.’ The role oi Alec did display Barraclough’s talents to the widest possible audience. Despite being regarded in television terms as essentially a broad comedy actor, his periomrance made Alec a iar more complex character than a cunnudgeonly clown. ‘It was thanks to the scriptwriters that they wrote that depth oi characterisation into the role,’ he says over-modestly. ‘But it’s true that The Street gave me a much higher proiile and that did come as a
’3 King’s. shock because you can’t really go ‘I’ve always liked variety in my work,’ anywhere, even abroad because it’s he says, ‘and aiter a long stint on sold overseas. It doesn’t worry me, but television you get the urge to get back it was surprising.’ to the theatre. You get that restless Dr Watson oiiers a slightly lower ieeling oi wanting another challenge, proiile, but ‘lots oi iun’ and the
slightly dubious new challenge oi having to sing. ‘I lust about get by,’ he says. ‘l’m surrounded by a lot oi people who are excellent and most oi my numbers are spoken anyway, apart irom a muslc-hall-type number, which didn’t present too much oi a problem because I do pantomime every year. I don’t consider myseli ready ior La Scala Milan just yet though.’ (Tom barrio)
Sherlock llolmes The Musical is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until 22 May.
The List 21 May—3 June I993 45