Cooking up Plays
Indian theatre playwright and director, Roysten Abel is a prominent and remarkably talented dramatist, whose innate passion and inclination for theatre and drama beckoned him to pursue his dreams. Among his works that have been presented on stage all over the world, are ‘Manganiyar Seduction’ and ‘Othello in Black and White’, which have also been staged in France.
Roysten Abel started out pursuing commerce in his earlier days, but two drop outs and a total disinterest in his family business made him finally decide to choose an alternate vocation on the theatrical stage. He began his new mission by apprenticing with the Royal Shakespeare Company after graduating from the National School of Drama in 1994. A year later, he established the Indian Shakespeare Company with the preliminary objective of presenting the successful works of Shakespeare.
The defining moment in his career occurred when he got immense recognition on the success of his first original production in 1999, “Othello: a Play in Black and White”. Based on Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’, his version takes place in the company of Indian actors that perform English plays. While enacting the play Othello, a Kathakali-trained actor (a traditional South Indian dance form) plays the lead role of Othello, creating a scenario of a play within a play. Initially funded by the British Council of India, its success at Delhi led Steven Berkof to recommend it to the Edinburgh festival where it won him a ‘Scotsman Fringe First Award’. It was eventually performed at the Cairo International Festival, at the Lille 3000, in Paris in 2007, and in Amsterdam and in Belgium in 2008. His subsequent productions include “The Spirit of Anna Frank” (2002), “Perfect Evening” (2005) and “Flowers” (2006).
His next significant show was ‘The Manganiyar Seduction” premiered in 2006 in Delhi, where over 40 Manganiyar musicians participated. These are a group of traditional folk music singers from Rajasthan (Western India) whose music about Alexander the Great and Rajput kings, among others, has been passed down for many generations. Abel drew inspiration from the ‘Hawa Mahal‘ in Jaipur and from the Red Light District in Amsterdam and eventually came up with the idea of ‘The Manganiyar Seduction’, which after its premier in Delhi, soon featured in nearly 40 festivals in a span of seven years across the world, from Melbourne in Australia to North Carolina in the USA, and most notably at the ‘Nuits de fourvière’ festival in Lyon, France in June 2009. Roysten has always attempted to promote the native street artistes of India like folk musicians, snake charmers, puppeteers, impressionists, etc, whereby their hitherto unseen talents and genius can be universally appreciated.
For the past few months, he has been working on his new production ‘The Kitchen’. In this non-verbal presentation, the audience is delightfully treated to the gratification of their visual, acoustic and olfactory senses, eventually stirring their gustatory senses at the end of the show. In this extraordinary spectacle, Abel aims to symbolically convey to his audience of how humans evolve on the path of life, in the melting pot of meditation, dance and cuisine. Featured at the ‘Nuits de fourvière’ and the Holland Festival this year (2014), ‘The Kitchen’ presents a couple who face one another on stage, at their feet are two large pots, 100 kilos of rice, sugar, almonds, milk, cardamom and raisins, all set to cook payasam (kheer), a traditional Indian dessert. Behind them is a wooden cage with twelve percussionists and their ‘mizhavu’, a traditional and sacred percussion instrument of Kerala. The impressive visual and lighting effects together with the dramatic crescendo of surging drum-beats culminates in a feeling of exhilaration, thereby enrapturing the spectators. According to some witnesses, this unique spectacle defies description through words and can only be comprehended when one experiences it personally. Abel intends to present it on the 1st of August 2014 at Bangalore. Today his company boasts of a large repertoire of successful theatrical performances.