The Man Who Delivers Theatre
France was the guest of honour at the Bratyajon Theatre’s fourth International theatre festival, organised in Kolkata from the 5th to the 10th of June 2015. France was represented by the Aleph theatre company, from Ivry sur Seine, alongside companies from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Burundi.
The director of the theatre company is Oscar Castro Ramirez, a Chilean playwright and actor who was tortured and imprisoned by the junta before finding asylum in France in 1976. He put on his most recent work, La Brume (The mist), and spent 6 days in Kolkata and the iconic town of Santiniketan where Rabindranath Tagore founded his university, accompanied by seven actors and two technicians from his company. At each encounter with the public, press or actors, he invariably said “I thank my adoptive mother, France, who not only saved my life, but offered me the facilities and opportunities that have allowed me to be here today, in Kolkata, surrounded by the international theatre family”.
They arrived at four in the morning, white from fatigue, and possibly the bad airline wine. I met them twelve hours later, during their official visit to the director of the Bratyajon festival, Bratyo Basu, himself a playwright and director when his position as Minister for tourism in West Bengal allows him the time. A few handshakes and many smiles later, the ice had been broken, no doubt aided by the forty degree heat which Kolkata had been labouring under for weeks. The Aleph Theatre had started their charm offensive, and its success was not only down to the beauty and charm of the actresses.
For to complement Kolkata’s heat haze, , they not only brought the mist from Ivry sur Seine, they brought the veil that cloaks the coasts of France and the Pacific daily before the lackadaisical sun abandons its attempt to evaporate the oceans, and lets the sea mists fall in delicate pearl droplets that bend the sunlight to their opalescent will.
The playwright sleeps, he wakes up, or perhaps he dreams that he wakes up: whatever the case, he meets the characters from his plays and novels; there are quite a few, after 50 years of writing… They are waiting for a mist, the mist, renowned and heady, that covers life and stage and melts the differences together, just as the impressionists played with light and shadow to force a change of perspective on the viewer. A pure white Candomblé ceremony, a dance with multi-coloured umbrellas, an angel-priest –captain-libertine; an assistant with a plunging neckline, a meandering passage of scenes that flow into the final, where the characters feel they have no choice but to poison their creator, who, jealous of their immortality, does not want to merely impersonate them, but wants to actually enter their skin.
You find all this confusing? Congratulations, welcome to the Confusionist sect!
The audience of the Bratyajon International Theatre Festival quickly understood, despite some vagaries in the technical support, how much the tones of Molière and the magic of Garcia Marquez chimed, down the centuries and over oceans, with the humanism of Tagore’s theatre. 800 spectators laughed and cried with Anais, Sylvie, Catherine Natasha, Pascal, Fatima, Tales and Oscar, or perhaps I mean Barba, La Sorda, Carla, Botticelli, Carioca, Nicomedes and Il Comendatore too; they asked themselves, and no doubt they are still asking themselves, if Samuel the lighting engineer and Emilie the sound engineer’s appearance on stage was fortuitous or scripted.
The universe of Oscar Castro Ramirez can certainly not be summarised by his most recent creation, The mist; if his writings offer a glimpse of a rich character, his biography echoes the history of the twentieth century. Born in Chili in 1947, Oscar started the Aleph Theatre in 1968 in Santiago, where he put on pieces that satirised Chilean society. On tour in France at the time of the coup in 1973. On his return, he and his sister were interned in a concentration camp after having been tortured by the military, and many of his fellow actors disappeared. On his liberation in 1976, Oscar Castro sought asylum in France, and since then he has written novels and plays and has re-established the Aleph Theatre in Ivry sur Seine.
One paragraph to attempt to summarise a life and a career is not only insufficient, but presumptuous, but we can at least add that Oscar Castro has devoted his life to the theatre, to the quest for justice, and along the way, to women.
Oscar Castro and his company passed six days in Kolkata and Santineketan, six days during which they fell in love with Bengal, six days during which they seduced the Bengalis, right up to the police officer who came to enquire who these French people were, standing there at the roadside protecting themselves from the sun with multi-coloured umbrellas as they and waited for a broken clutch to be repaired, and then enthusiastically recognised Oscar from the accounts he had read of him in the Bengali press, and warmly pressed his hand, taking smiling selfies to share his touch with glory with his family and friends .
Is it because he survived both the dictatorship and monogamy, that Oscar spreads so much love? Is it because life, a stage like any other, is too short for his thirst to tell and to share to ever be sated? Is it because the world which surrounds us, as well as the one reported on the news, is full of inequality, cowardice and ugliness, that Oscar has dedicated his life to highlighting the folly of it by inventing, for example, a language where the words come into existence before the things they describe?
Oscar Castro is not a playwright, a producer and a theatre director like others. He does not only direct actors, he helps them to bring their talent into the world; each exclamation is a birth pang, and I would not be surprised if he demanded nine months of rehearsals before his actors are ready deliver their characters at his feet.