“The Tempest is a play we know well. But in working together with a small group of actors at the Bouffes du Nord, we rediscovered how this play contains so many rich levels of hidden meanings — it was Shakespeare’s last play and resonates so deeply through all his plays. We are going to rework on what we searched and shared with an audience in the Bouffes du Nord in three very intense evenings — we’ll search again together. The boat is waiting for us.”
When wheelchair-bound Peter Brook said these words to announce his new project in a presentation at Theatre Principal de Palma, Spain, in July 2021, he was 97 years old. He had already produced three versions of The Tempest in 33 years, with the latest being La Tempete, adapted by Jean-Claude Carrière and Sotigui Kouyaté in 1990. Brook once again returned to the island along with his long-time directorial collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne in April 2022, reiterating that The Tempest and Shakespeare had never stopped to arouse his passion, but coincidentally, it turned out to be his last production.
Brook is known in India better for his 1985 Mahabharata, a two-part, nine-hour retelling of the epic, which he later remade as a television limited series as well. Mallika Sarabhai, dancer and the chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, played Draupadi in Brook’s nine-hour extravagant stage show.
Tribute to Brook
Brook’s final production, The Tempest Project, will be the main attraction at this year’s International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK), to be held at Thrissur, from February 5 to 14.
“It’s our homage to the legendary theatre master. As one of the directors who has a string of Shakespearian plays to his credit, he is the one, in my opinion, who gave them a legitimate theatrical reading. He played a crucial part in transforming theatre from its literary form to a physical and performative one,” said Deepan Sivaraman, one of the curators of the festival.
Romeo Castellucci from Italy, Bashar Markus from Palestine, Brett Baily from South Africa, and Euginio Barba from Denmark are among the contemporary masters whose plays will be performed in Trissur.
“This is the first time in the history of the festival we are having the presence of so many masters together,” said Deepan.
Plays rich in political content
Bashar Markus’s play Hash sees a person whose fear has rendered him incapable of leaving home. In the confines of a small room, he searches for his life’s story while observing the growth of his body. Markus’s well-accepted play is a biting satire of the consumerist society that veers between claustrophobia and a metaphor for the modern world.
“Bashar Markus’s plays are the ones that can be produced only from a war-torn region like Palestine. We have another play from Palestine, Don’t Believe Me If I Talked To You Of War by Asmaa Azaizeh, who is a poet, performer, and journalist based in Haifa,” added Deepan.
This year, with the theme of the festival being Humanity Must Unite, most of the plays — both international and national — are rich in political content.
“Good art, irrespective of space and time, celebrates humanity,” feels Deepan. “In India’s present political and social scenario, there is no better slogan to be tagged with such a festival. This is a context where all the people who believe in humanity should unite — not only the artists, thinkers, philosophers, or scholars but anybody who believes that something has left in them. That kind of alternate proposition is needed and I believe it could only come from Kerala, at this point in time. Kerala is one of those places where we still have some hope. It’s like an oasis, a space where we can still think, express yourselves, create art, and criticize — we should celebrate this space and show it to the rest of the world like the International Film Festival of Kerala, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and various literature festivals. When we are asked one day what was going on back then, with pride, we can say that Kerala was curating India’s consciousness,” Deepan summarised.
Plays with heavy political undertones
Many of the Indian plays selected also carry heavy political undertones. Taking Sides by Athul Kumar is about an artist facing trial in Nazi Germany. He decides to take on the state by himself, not engaging a lawyer to defend his case in a legal framework. S Muruga Bhoopathi’s Idakini Kataayaaratham, presented by the group Manalmagudi Theatre Land, is rooted in the Dravidian culture.
“We propose this play up against the very notion of a monolithic nation. Similarly, we have a string of diverse productions from Assam, Manipur, and Karnataka, etc.,” claim the curators.
“There has been a lot of pain in recent years. We observed people banding together for mutual support amidst the suffering and agony. Similar circumstances are present in India right now. We want to highlight this humanity, which is more beautifully expressed in Malayalam as maanavikatha, through the festival,” remarked Anuradha Kapur, another curator of the festival.
Antigone (Uzbekistan/UK), Hero Beauty (Taiwan), Kafka (France), Museum (Israel), Ave Maria (Denmark), The Tempest (France), Samson (South Africa), Told by Mother (Lebanon), Don’t Believe Me if I Talk about War (Israel/Palestine), Seven Moons (Tashkent/Uzbek), Three Episodes of Family Life (Poland), and 3rd Reich (Italy) are the foreign productions.
The festival this year will also include more non-theatrical performances like the show by the musical band Indian Ocean. Theruvara, a street art festival, is underway in conjunction with ITFoK with around 20 artists from all over the country participating in it. Graffiti adorns the walls of buildings, illustrating the cultural history of the city. This has already caught the attention of many, ranging from artists to the commoner on the streets.