It is summer, and if you’re wondering what the kids will do after they’ve finished everything that can be done, this is a diverting endeavour you can turn to.
Poile Sengupta’s Good Heavens! is a collection of seven one-act plays that can be easily staged anywhere. The plots are interesting, humorous, quirky and thoughtful in turn. While Hamsadhwani subtly rekindles the child’s ear for music, No, Not I brings out the eternal human trait of passing on the blame on others as far as possible, in a humorous manner.
Sengupta’s book is not just about the stories. She talks about the beginnings of theatre, what a script is and how one should choose a script that engages the audience. The important elements of a play are explained lucidly and children can not only grasp the finer points, but also get a grounding that will stand them in good stead if they decide to take up theatre as a career.
Good Heavens by Poile Sengupta, Puffin, 199 pages, Rs195.
Budding theatre artistes, take note. A good story, the visual aspect and sound, the pace, issues like royalty and permission (yes, plagiarism, too, has been touched upon) and what holds good for a good one-act play. “A one-act play is quite like a soccer game or a limited-overs cricket match. It is a short story that revolves around a single central idea,” she says in the extended, but immensely valuable introduction.
Production, direction, rehearsals and their importance, the cast, the stage, the setting, sets, how to replicate the outdoors with simple changes, lights, financial matters, costumes, make-up, the green room, the concept of the sutradhar (narrator) and even curtain calls—each facet of a successful play has been set out immaculately. The cast of characters, the props and stage set-up have been explained at the start of every play. Most of them can be enacted at home easily. Sengupta’s repertoire for children includes Role Call, Role Call Again, Vikram and Vetal and The Way to my Friend’s House.
Good Heavens! was the outcome of a senior fellowship from the government of India to specially write plays for children in English. A humorous column written by her in the magazine, Children’s World, ran for nearly 30 years.
Equally adept at plays for an older audience, Sengupta is at home with the English language while, at the same time, keeping the regional touch intact. A Tamilian (from Bangalore) married to a civil servant, she moved to Delhi with her husband. But her Tamil-ness hasn’t overwhelmed the choice of story so much that it loses relevance for those from other regions.
Global warming, Harry Potter and the ad film world find place in the stories and highlight the contemporary nature of the plays. In one of them, it is just the lighting that takes centre stage. The Monster Night shows how semi-darkness can play tricks on the eye. Two children, alone at home after their parents are called away on a sudden assignment, imagine that there is a monster loose in the house.
If Monster Night plays just on lights, Hamsadhwani and No, Not I need to be staged with a bit of professional help. Some of the plays, like The White Elephant, require imaginative thinking and give full freedom to the child to let his or her imagination—and, as a result, creativity—soar.
If your child is even slightly theatrically inclined, this is the book to start him or her off with. If nothing else, it will liven up their summer holidays—and yours, too. Bet you haven’t had such fun in years.
(The writer is editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org)