For a young theatre group to come good on the promise of the blurb, so frequently overstated these days, is a rare occurrence indeed. Pune’s Theatre Flamingo have done just that with their engaging immersive theatre outing,
Read Me in 5D Zone
, which we have previewed on these pages. At a private residence at Dahanukar Wadi in Kandivli, an intrepid ensemble of nine actors put up a play with a difference for an audience of just a dozen or so. The ‘guests’ were unobtrusively shepherded around the property by director Vinayak Kolwankar, as the setting of performance shifted from one room to the next. Each change in vantage transported us to a new household that made the most of the found space — with its shelves of books, items of décor and utility, draperies and rugs — with artlessly ‘added’ props providing only the slightest veneer of artificiality to otherwise realistic settings.

Harnessed drama

In many ways, the inherited native aspects of immersive theatre as a form contributed much to the immediacy of the work. Actors were present at just an arm’s length away and their countenances, flush with expression, lent themselves to an intimate scrutiny both voyeuristic and participatory, in a psychological rather than physical sense. The advisory requested audiences to only observe the actors, and not interact with them. So the audience crowded the corners, both engrossed and distracted by the proceedings, their rhythms and energies contributing to each scene even though they remained essentially invisible to the actors. More than the so-called fourth wall, so crucial to theatre, there was a sense of two worlds in conference, curiously coalesced like, say, glycerine and water, and connected only by breath or touch or words that were uttered. It certainly goes to the credit of the team that they were able to harness, with great fidelity, the compelling power of a genre of performance that they have only recently come in contact with. As an experiment, the production was studied and measured, never lackadaisical about its portents, and never frittering away opportunities to create realistic drama out of what were nondescript everyday situations.

It must be said that the plot-lines themselves seemed to have been pulled out of a telenovela. They dealt with ‘outed’ gay men, or an unwanted pregnancy, or even infidelity, with the respective strands brought together by the end. That was a narrative choice that, along with the effective use of the space, brought in dramatic tension in spades. In one scene, a terrace was commandeered for an emergency rendezvous that sent pulses racing even as the young protagonists reeled with the repercussions of a breaking scandal. The actors, specially, delivered what could almost be termed on-camera performances, never short on verisimilitude, yet remarkably, these were akin to long extended ‘single takes’ performed live. Films are made or broken on the editing table, and Kolwankar’s play brings to mind how theatre’s economy of expression makes it essentially a film editor’s medium, if only as an exacting drill.

Breaking ground

Another immersive theatre piece recently staged in Mumbai —
Stand By the Street from Visual Respiration
— took an altogether different approach. It was more theatrical in its presentation, with roadside vendors introduced via stylised monologues. Yet, director Aruna Ganesh Ram brought audiences close enough to actually break through and thrillingly interact with the actors — calling out their politics, or helping them in their distress. In England, sexual harassment incidents in immersive theatre in which members of the audience were perpetrators highlight the dangers of such an agency, which might explain Kolwankar’s relative conservatism of approach, keeping control resolutely with his actors.

A sliver of morality, both perceived and actual, runs through the narrative informing the lives of its suburban denizens, each dealing with transgressions of their own. Taken within its own cultural context,
Read Me in 5D Zone
does break some ground. For instance, it makes us privy to womens’ conversations that are usually invisibilised in popular culture. Adhishree Atre and Sharvaree Lahade as mother and daughter effectively evoke a sense of both feminine solidarity and generational impasse. Pramitee Narake and Rasika Vakharkar as flatmates give off the vibe of youthful agency with clipped wings that is such a heartbreaking motif of these illiberal times. In contrast, the play’s queer subplots, well-intentioned though they may be, stand on unsteadier ground, with its preachy writing wearing its politics of persecution on its sleeve. The actors (Akshaykumar Mande and Kapil Redekar play lovers), of course, conspire to draw pearls from ash, and almost succeed.

Details on bookings for
Read Me in 5D Zone
at 9503575464 or Theatre Flamingo page on Facebook. The group’s
Dumb Indignation
, will be staged at Drama School Mumbai on August 25, 7 p.m. and Si Bambai on August 26, 7 p.m.

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