“OTHELLO” AT DEMOCRAZY THEATRE: OR THE PITFALL OF REALISM

 

Chetana Nagavajara

Went to see a Thai adaptation of “Othello” at Democrazy Studio last night (26.11.12) and came home with a mixed feeling. It is heart-breaking to have to chastise the Director for his lack of sense of proportion and above all lack of a central concept, for everybody including the cast and the technical staff was trying his/her utmost to make it a gripping performance. But I dozed off a couple of times and my colleagues who went with me did the same: much of a muchness, one would say, or in other words, too much of everything, and of course, too long and too verbose.

There was one big misconception that marred the production: the Director and his players thought that “physical cruelty” was the appropriate vehicle for “philosophical cruelty”. The Polish critic, Jan Kott, highlighted this point in his epoch-making study, “Shakespeare Our Contemporary” in the 1960s, and scholars as well as practitioners of the theatre have since listened to his wise counsel. This danger becomes all the more damaging in a small theatre (known in German as the “Zimmertheater” or “chamber theatre”), because physical proximity between actors and audience renders an overdose of realistic playing into a kind of boxing match, whereby the audience becomes privileged boxing fans watching the bout from the ringside. A chamber theatre must vary its styles of playing in order to avoid getting bogged down in facile realism. “Reincarnation” written and directed by Nikorn Sae Tang did that marvelously.

The idea of anchoring the play in the context of a football team was ingenious. I have seen it done before by the Berlin Maxim Gorki-Theater in “Hamlet”, but the identity of the sport was left uncertain there. The interplay between the action on stage and the TV and video clips was technically admirable.

The decision to use coarse conversational language was deliberate, and there was no harm in doing that. But again there was little variation in the levels and types of language used: even the tender moments could have been carried through by using King Ramkhamhaeng’s pronouns, but there were none or very few tender moments, until the last 5-10 minutes when the play suddenly took on a Shakespearean turn. But that was too late. The entire performance was like a piece of music written as an uninterrupted sequence of “fortes” and “fortissimos”!

Yet all the weaknesses were excusable in the name of determination, dedication and good intentions. What was not excusable was the laughter coming constantly from a group of audience members who came there hoping to be entertained by a hilarious treat. The Democrazy Theatre might wish to distribute a handbook as a guide for the audience as to where to laugh and where to keep quiet!

(I shall come up with a Thai version soon.)

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