One the young and exuberant stage of Thespo, Sri Lanka’s Walking Path left an indelible theatrical trail to its Indian audience at Prithvi on Friday, December 19. This production whose central premise was the campaign to construct new parks and paths as a symbolic reconstruction of their nation; was designed without dialogues. The elimination of hitherto considered primal medium of communication was drastic enough. However, its foreknowledge gave the audience enough time to sharpen their senses.
The costume was marked with the unadulterated white- the impeccably pure and clear- just as the message of the performance. White being one of the conventional choice for mime artistes, the actors were divided into three sets right from the start- the runners, the vigilant enforcers and the vibrant youth. While the runners symbolized the mindless following of the authority, the vigilante group was the emblem of repressive state watchdogs and the youth represented the spirit of individual freedom and expression that were time and again curtailed in one way or the other. The minute distinction between the groups achieved through all white costumes showed the dependence on subtlety to communicate to tis audience. Superimposed against the black ambience of the theatre, the actors and their expressions were only enhanced further by the use of white smoke on stage.
The props like bags, sandwiches, sunscreen lotions, balloons et al were incorporated into the white schema. However, more interesting was the artificial cardboard versions of cellphones and laptops that were used as important objects as part of the performance. The unauthentic shade given to these objects adds a layer of the fantastical. Thus, it convinces the audience about its symbolic value and stresses its function as a message rather than a mere prop. Due to the absence of dialogues, the violence and the oppression is not pinned down to a specific situation or culture or political group or country. This enables the audience of a cross-cultural composition to connect with it through their own personal and political vantage point.
The music migrated from the realistic- like the sound of traffic, the sound of the birds, the cellphone beeps, cries of the babies to the symbolic- the calm beats for the youth that kept recurring, the humorous beat for the lighter scenes and the ironically melancholic during a mock crying scene. When one is not hearing words, the ears, surprising within a short period of time, becomes tuned to capturing the wide minutiae of sounds used in the play.
The use of stage space and set design were exceptionally minimalistic in nature. The white benches of different sizes used were once again employed to function at two levels- the real and the symbolic. Coupled with the superlative acting, the benches helped in recreating in the minds of the audience a virtual setting and a convincing one at that. At the more symbolic level, they indicated the physical proximity and emotional distance that exist among people today.
The acting was the limelight of the performance, the showstopper, the penultimate weapon of mass appeal and adulation. What the seven lead actors and the wide array of auxiliary actors succeeded in doing is to outline the role of the human body in theatre. It stood as a reminder to the fans of the theatre that this art form is conducted through the body primarily. That the body remains the most powerful carrier of thoughts and ideas. The mobile phone scene where the director wanted to showcase the emotional saturation, alienation and insensitivity perpetrated by modern technology is the point in case. The actor who creates an emotionally charged moment of grief through his crying and struggling body induces pathos in the audience only to immediately throw in comic relief and anti-climactic laughter. Yet, the human condition has never appeared more pitiful where deep angst has to be artificially cultivated to secure the mandatory, obsessive likes and laughter on social networking sites. The behind-the-scene conductor of this show, the director, achieved a theatrical stroke of excellence with the supremely well-coordinated body movements and eye contact in the scene where the actors were portraying the perfect harmony and togetherness with each other. It also had one of those rare incorporations of the gay couple in a public park being under the scanner of the moral police. The actors had such prowess that they controlled their reaction to the presence of other actors on stage with as much panache as they created the feeling of love and sexual attraction towards their partners.
It is difficult to sustain the symbolic and the silent for an unbroken period of 75 minutes. But, Walking Path did exactly that and more- it sustained a continuum of critical thinking and emotions for an intensely moving period of 75 minutes.