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Taking a leaf out of history books

Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Indian-origin families of Cato Manor, South Africa, come alive in three solo performances in the inaugural Going Solo international theatre festival across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore

For theatre-goers, signing up to watch a solo performance is often a high risk-high reward proposition. All the action is centred on that one performer on stage—there are few distractions; no other characters or dialogue to focus on; and even the sets are often minimalistic. But when it works, it can be really powerful.

Audiences in the Capital recently got a taste of what a good solo act can achieve, when actor Vinay Pathak stepped on to the stage of Kamani Auditorium last month in Nothing Like Lear. He cracked jokes, sometimes at the expense of the audience, he got their buy-in and when he had them eating out of his hand, he told them the strange story of a clown who may have killed his brother and who pines for his daughter who has settled into her important job in a big city away from him.

In Pathak’s hands the solo act seemed peopled by his memories and his energy permeated even the few quiet moments.

“There have been some successful solo plays in India," says Sanjoy Roy, managing director, Teamwork Arts. He cites the examples of theatre persons like Atul Kumar and Lushin Dubey, who are doing interesting experiments in solo theatre.

Starting 11 October, audiences in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai will again get a chance to watch solo acts, in Teamwork Productions’ inaugural Going Solo international theatre festival. The festival will feature two performances by the former vice-chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Pip Utton, and one by actor Jailoshini Naidoo of Durban, South Africa.

UK-based Utton’s plays, Adolf and Churchill, play out in the manner of biopics on the two memorable historical figures, Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. “Adolf is a political play with a serious purpose," Utton said in an email interview. “It is my belief that we are all a little intolerant, a little prejudiced. But most of us keep it under control until perhaps it is exploited by extremist and self-seeking politicians. Adolf is a warning to be alert to those who may manipulate any prejudice we have to the wrong ends." Utton first staged Adolf 16 years ago, and has since done more than 500 shows.

His Churchill was scripted on a much lighter note. Utton wanted to flesh out the British prime minister from a two-dimensional character in history books into the three-dimensional figure of a man who led Great Britain during most of World War II and who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. “A character any actor or writer dreams of...Churchill is an attempt at allowing an audience to spend a short time in the entertaining company of one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century," Utton said.

Naidoo’s At the Edge is an adaptation of Ronnie Govender’s book At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories, about the Indian community living in Cato Manor, South Africa, before the locality was demolished in 1958-59.

“At the Edge tells the stories of people, a community of Indian origin, who strive to make a better life in a foreign land through sheer discipline, tenacity, hard work and determination," Naidoo said in an email interview. She said the stories often just afford a glimpse into a day in the life of a Cato Manor family. “You will laugh with them and cry with them... Ultimately, they are human stories that we can all identify with," she said.

Roy of Teamwork is not concerned that an all-solos festival might spook the more risk-averse audiences. “You create an experience and people will come," he says.

The Going Solo international theatre festival is on from 11-13 October in Bangalore at MLR Convention Centre, Dyvasandra Industrial Layout, Mahadevapura, Whitefield, and MLR Convention Centre, 7th Phase, JP Nagar; from 15-17 October in New Delhi, at FICCI Auditorium, Mandi House; and from 19-21 October in Mumbai, at Sophia Bhabha Hall, Sophia College Campus, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Breach Candy. Tickets, 300, 500 and 750, are available at in.bookmyshow.com.

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