Dostoevsky on Kerala Stage: Aju K Narayanan’s Theatrical Production at School of Letters

School of Letters as the stage in Aju K Narayanan play St Petersburgile Chila Rapakalukal on 1 January 2022

              The new year often begins with G Sankarapillai commemoration at School of Letters, MGU Kottayam. St Petersburgile Chila Rapakalukal (Some Days and Nights in St Petersburg) a play directed by Prof Aju K Narayanan at School of Letters, MGU opened up the brave new world of culture and cross-cultural adaptations in Kerala this new year 2022 on January 1 at 7.30 pm. The script in Malayalam is also written by the director. The hour-long performance was staged at the Letters premises incorporating the two-decade-old heritage-building and the campus trees including the natural surroundings. Nature, people, landscape and even starlit skyscapes played a poignant role in this extraordinary mediated art performance. The whole world has become a stage and all the people players, this new year!

              It is based on the life and writing struggles of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) the Russian master of the novel in the 19th century as part of his 200th birthday. His literary career and scenes from the autobiographical instances in his own fiction are artfully included and presented on a sandwich stage that moves and meanders into the spectators. The audiences are part of this intimate bio-drama in many ways. The improvisational performance space provides various viewing positions and critical self-reflexive vantages in polyphonic ways. A lasting critique of life and theatre is also implied. The survival of humanity in and through art during the pandemic forms another suggestive context.

The gambling scene in Aju Narayanan play on Dostoevsky at SoL MGU on new year day 2022

              Several scenes and characters from the biographical contexts are recreated in elegantly choreographed sequences in splendid light and audio simulations. The live Sax and rhythms played by real musicians on the flexible stage add to the tempo and feel of an organic wholesome experience. The gambling scenes are exemplary and remarkable in visual and audio effects. The theatrical critique of the political economy of publishing and repressive literary institutions and apparatuses that is significant in the present in Kerala is commendable. The work reminds us of Perumbadavam Sreedharan’s Malayalam novel Oru Sangeertanam Pole in many inter-textual ways.

Starlit sky showing Orion constellation, the architecture of Letters building, living trees on the campus and the people becoming part of art performance in Aju Narayanan play at SoL MGU on new year day 2022

              The sensitive depiction of the human relations between the celebrated author and stenographer Anna gains momentum and swoops into a reductionist denouement soon after the climax. The overall production is simple and linear. The props and sets are improvisational and minimal. Incorporation of a teaching session on the author seems precarious and protruding within the otherwise flowing and moving narrative stream. A stasis in flux adds to the dramatic paradigm shift into the present.

Dr Aju K Narayanan and his team at the closing of the play on Dostoevsky at SoL MGU Kottayam on 1 Jan 2022

The incorporation of uninitiated young students, teachers and former students of the School into the theatrical production seems to be successful and effective. The directorial assistances and inputs provided by Pradhul P C Karipod, Kripa, Krishna and Rose Lijya in dramaturgy, costumes and choreography are distinctive. The art direction by Yesudas P M, music by Jonny Kallara and lights by Anoop Puna seemed appropriate to the whole scheme of things. The cast and crew seem set for further new ventures and performances in the emerging year ahead.

Text and images by Dr Ajay S Sekher, Assistant Professor of English, Research Supervisor and Coordinator, Centre for Buddhist Studies, SSUS Kalady 683574. 9895797798 ajaysekher@gmail.com

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