This verse drama revisits the brutal genocide and rampant rapes carried out by the Pakistani forces during Bangladesh’s War of Liberation. The play begins in the courtyard of the Headman of a district, with villagers forming the Chorus, some of whom do not speak, but rather bring out the essence of the moment through choreography. The villagers report that the “partisans” of “Bangladesh” are coming from the East, and the village women and children present here are seeking the protection of the Headman.
Deals with the brutal burning of 127 suspected anti-communists in a South Korean village by retreating soldiers of North Korean People's Liberation Army in 1950.
Tanya Ronder's adaptation of Shahid Nadeem's play Dara is a domestic drama of global consequence, set in 17th-century Mughal India. It was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 27 January 2015 (previews from 20 January).
Nadeem’s original play was first performed by Ajoka Theatre at Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore, Pakistan, in January 2010, and later in Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan, and Amritsar, Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur and Hyderabad in India.
The play's action begins in 1659, in Mughal India. The imperial court is a place of opulence and excess, with music, drugs, eunuchs and harems. Two brothers, Dara and Aurangzeb, whose mother’s death inspired the Taj Mahal, are heirs to this Muslim empire. Now they fight ferociously for succession. Dara, the crown prince, has the love of the people, and of his emperor father; but the younger Aurangzeb holds a different vision for India’s future. Islam inspires poetry in Dara, puritanical rigour in Aurangzeb. Can Jahanara, their beloved sister, assuage Aurangzeb’s resolve to seize the Peacock Throne and purge the empire?
In an author's note in the published script, Ronder writes: 'My brief was to take Shahid Nadeem’s play and adapt it for a National Theatre audience. We set out, myself and director Nadia Fall, to unpack the events cited in the original play, to educate ourselves, and to recreate the story in a way that didn’t put our audience at arm’s length, able to write the drama off as a story that was not theirs. The tale of Dara and Aurangzeb is one which a Pakistani or an Indian audience would have preexisting knowledge and some ownership of. A story, albeit differently told across borders, which children all over the Indian subcontinent will have heard at school or at home, (perhaps akin to our connection in Britain to Henry VIII or Elizabeth I), but that very few of us in the West know about. ... The result is a more recognisable shape of play; it has expanded to five acts, it starts before the original begins and ends several decades later. I have added in a trial scene to give Dara the voice I think we need to hear, and added various characters and storylines, all taken from or inspired by historical facts – Itbar and Afia, Murad, Mian Mir, Hira Bai and Aurangzeb’s relationship with her – and also incorporated a childhood for the brothers and sisters of this Mughal court. All in an attempt to round the story out, to make it a fairer fight between the brothers and to hopefully give our audience the psychological and emotional complexity they are used to.'
The National Theatre premiere was directed by Nadia Fall and designed by Katrina Lindsay. It was performed by Zubin Varla (as Dara), Gurjeet Singh, Scott Karim, Ronak Patani, Emilio Doorgasingh, Anjana Vasan, Sargon Yelda (as Aurangzeb), Rudi Dharmalingam, Esh Alladi, Nicholas Khan, Mariam Haque, Gary Wood, Vincent Ebrahim, Nathalie Armin, Anneika Rose, Anjli Mohindra, Liya Tassisa, Indira Joshi, Chook Sibtain, Simon Nagra, Emilio Doorgasingh, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Ranjit Krishnamma.
The play is set amid preparations for the festival of Eid, and uses the Kashmir conflict as an occasion to understand the issue of human plight in times of crisis, generated by contrasting and competing nationalist narratives. Instead of taking sides on the Kashmir issue, the play deals with its impact on the emotional, psychological, and social life of the people in the Valley, revealing how the conflict has turned “Paradise on Earth” into a zone of war waged between the azadis and Indian para/military forces, deployed by the state for preserving its “national integrity” and protecting the Kashmiris most of whom do not recognize themselves as Indians.
This play brings out the complexities of the communalization of society, and the price that ordinary people have to pay for it. It revolves round binaries to bring out the communal divide. The spatial binary of heaven and earth is offset by the religio–cultural binary of one community clad in green—representing Muslims—and the other clad in saffron—symbolizing the Hindutva brigade. Presents a carnival of characters, most of whom are symbolic of political personages in post-1947 India, especially those that emerged in the bloody aftermath of the 2002 episode at Godhra railway station in Gujarat. They represent the ideology of India’s Far Right and embody the consequences of what is shown as an unholy alliance between the state machinery and the party in power, an alliance that is however not limited in scope to any particular Indian region.
Realistic Drama that shows complex psychological characters as a modern-educated son rejects his father and the Confucian value system.
Based on a a tale found in a collection of Sanskrit stories dating from the eleventh century. The play focuses on Padmini who is attracted to Kapila, her bookish husband Devadatta's friend. In a jealous fit, Devadatta cuts off his own head leaving Kapila to find the body, worried he will be blamed, cutting off his own head. The gods intervene to try and restore the men to life but the heads become switched...
Depicts the insecurity of office workers in the last financial crisis through fragmented, colloquial and hyper-realistic language through extensive choreography and movement.
Staged in a politically sensitive environment several years after the Tiananmen Incident of 1989, the play makes numerous allusions to the Chinese ideological and political experience in the 1970s and 1980s. Often called an 'anti-play' due to its lack of plot and characters.
Based on the life of Araj Ali Matubbar, a self-taught native philosopher. The play begins with the Sutradhar (Narrator) introducing Araj to the audience as one who, full of questions, always looks for reasons rather than comfort or consolation in the blind alleys of faith. Most of the villagers around him, with their absolute faith in the Shariat and their incomprehension of Araj’s questions about things big and small, do not often know how to respond to his musings. The play addresses issues of intolerance and resistance across time and space, abounds in scenes and speeches rich in wit and humor.
The continent of Asia, where 60% of the world’s population lives, is heir to a staggering variety of theatrical performance traditions and has been the generator and recipient of much theatrical innovation over the last centuries. The categories ‘Asian theatre’ or ‘Oriental drama’, as these have been defined in ‘the West’ and received and re-interpreted in Asia, are taken to refer to plays and productions composed in the countries of East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, or created by people of Asian descent. Drama from other parts of the Asian continent will be dealt with elsewhere on Drama Online .
Much Asian theatre has a ritual character and the distinction between religious and artistic practice is more fluid than sometimes asserted. Hindu and Buddhist ideas and practices have historically been closely intertwined with Asian theatre, even after the rise of Islam in the region starting in the 12th century and Christianity in the 16th century. The oldest surviving Asian theatre texts, a corpus of two dozen or so plays and a number of fragments written in a hybrid of Sanskrit and Prakrit, dramatize mythological episodes. The Natyashastra (Treatise on Drama), an ancient compilation of Sanskrit texts on theatre, indicates these plays were dedicated to Hindu deities and performed at ritual occasions to expert spectators. The director in this theatre is the sutradhar, literally the puppeteer or ‘string holder,’ an early realization of an enduring figuration of human actors as puppets to be pulled by invisible threads of authority. It is difficult to precisely date the beginnings of the Sanskrit theatre, but surviving plays appear to have been written in northern India between the 1st and 7th centuries CE. The Jataka tales and the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana these plays dramatized remain common stock for theatrical traditions around the region.
Dynastic history is also a familiar dramatic subject in Asia, and theatre has long been a privileged medium for disseminating courtly ideals. The Chinese historian Sima Qian (145-86 BCE) describes a theatrical spectacle titled Dawu (Great Warrior Dance) purportedly witnessed by Confucius (551-479 BCE). This courtly pageant in six movements or acts re-enacted the establishment of the Zhou dynasty in the 11th century BCE through symbolic gestures, music, and props such as weapons and shields, aiming to demonstrate ‘order and good government’ and inculcate awe of military might. While hereditary monarchs have largely been superseded by the nation-state in modern Asia, chronicle plays are still enacted on the stages of the nation, stately pavilions of surviving kingdoms, and humble village halls.
Many of today’s major theatre traditions crystallized in 14th to 18th century CE Asia, a period of rapid social and political change. Chinese opera came to maturity during the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368); Japan’s courtly nō theatre took form in the late fourteenth century, while its lively popular drama kabuki came of age around 1700; wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) developed under the patronage of sixteenth-century Javanese royal courts; kathakali emerged in Kerala around 1600; Thailand’s khon masked dance-drama flowered in the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767). These sophisticated and highly codified arts benefited from royal patronage, as was the case for much theatre in Europe at the time, and they remain iconic forms, appreciated by foreign visitors and locals alike. Other pre-modern theatrical practices have left fewer traces. Around Asia there were numerous traditions combining shamanic ritual and trance with drama for the purpose of healing or prognostication, for example. Also ubiquitous were sometimes-raucous folk dramas performed by itinerant drama troupes using masks, puppets, magic, and acrobatics. Some ritual and folk forms survive today through state patronage, tourism and heritage industries, or persistent beliefs in their efficacious qualities.
The introduction of European-style education and the printing press wrought significant changes in nineteenth-century Asia. European scholars collected manuscripts of plays and transcribed plays that had previously existed only as oral compositions. Scripts that had been formerly the exclusive preserve of court libraries or transmitted within professional theatre clans were published and made available for critique and re-use. European theatrical forms, such as spoken drama, were studied at schools and imitated in practice. Playwrights such as Burma’s U Ponnya (1807-1866) and U Kyin U (1810 – 1853?) wrote secular dramas for the literary market. The Parsi theatre, an indigenization of light opera, began in 1850s Bombay, and quickly was turned into a commercial enterprise, with Parsi and other entrepreneurs fielding Hindustani-language musical troupes that travelled as far east as Indonesia. The Parsi theatrical model was in turn widely imitated around South and Southeast Asia. Modern courses, schools, and institutes including Baroda’s Royal Academy of Music (founded 1886), the Tokyo Music School (founded 1887), Beijing’s Fuliancheng School (founded 1904), Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens in Phnom Penh (founded 1917), and Yogyakarta’s Kridha Beksa Wirama (founded 1918) opened esoteric artistic practices to outsiders, formulated new aesthetic principles, and reconceived training in terms of grades and levels. In the early twentieth century, theatrical naturalism and realism attracted many adherents, particularly among European-oriented educated elites. Equally significant, however, was the hybrid poetic drama developed by Bengali poet and public intellectual Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in literature. Tagore travelled widely in Asia and developed a pan-Asian aesthetic and ideology in his plays and dance dramas. His work was hugely influential for several generations. Anti-colonial theatremakers under Tagore’s spell such as the Indonesian playwright and politician Roestam Effendi (1903-1979) laced their densely symbolic plays with indigenous symbols in a conscious effort to construct national cultures.
The colonization and occupation of much of Asia by Japan before and during World War Two challenged European cultural dominance, and ultimately furthered the development of national and pan-Asian theatre. During the decades of the cold war, theatre workers were courted by proponents of Soviet realism and American avant-gardism. Some, such as Japan’s absurdist playwright Betsuyaku Minoru (1937-), plowed the furrows of the latest international theatre trends. While tradition provided only a loose inspiration for some theatre, such as in the ‘modern nō’ plays of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) written in the 1950s, other practitioners, including the Indian playwright-director Habib Tanvir (1923-2009) and Indonesian playwright-director W.S. Rendra (1935-2009), made a close study of traditional forms and fashioned what has been described variously as ‘theatre of roots’ or ‘new tradition’ by re-interpreting folk forms for cosmopolitan audiences. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), China pursued an aggressive policy of modernization. Eight ‘model operas’ (yangbanxi) combining features of traditional Chinese opera and European ballet were created by creative teams supervised by the wife of Chairman Mao Zedong and were the only form of theatrical expression sanctioned by the state. Postmodern varieties of dance theatre emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, including butō in Japan, the environmental dance-theatre of Indonesian choreographer Sardono W. Kusumo (1945- ), Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan (founded 1973), and India’s Chandralekha (1928-2006), which departed in sometimes startling ways from traditional forms and ideas. Many companies were oriented towards international festivals and markets rather than domestic consumption.
It was also in the 1960s and 1970s when Asian theatre began to exert significant influence on non-Asian practice. Previous generations of European artists had looked upon Asian theatre from afar as an exotic resource. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) wrote the prologue to Faust (1806-29) in response to scholarly editions of Sanskrit drama; William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) wrote his Four Plays for Dancers (1921) based partially on nō manuscripts edited for publication by his secretary, the American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972); Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1966) wrote enthusiastically about Balinese, Cambodian, and Chinese performance with limited exposure or cultural knowledge, mainly to endorse their own pre-conceived theatrical notions. Genuine cultural exchange only became possible with the age of cheap jet travel. Performing artists from Asia were invited to attend conferences, pursue degrees in higher education, and teach summer schools. European, American and Australian artists undertook practical studies with Asian masters, supported by grants and favourable exchange rates, over months if not years. Some Euro-American practitioners formed theatre companies with Asian collaborators, such as Julie Taymor’s Teater Loh (1975-1980). The ‘poor theatre’ model of Polish director Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999), which drew on Asian philosophical ideas and movement systems, was enthusiastically taken up around Asia, and provided an important point of reference for psychophysical training, research in the theatre, structuring of theatrical collectives and engagement with environments. Intercultural hybrids, most famously Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata (1985-1989) and a series of Asian-influenced works by Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil, were also products of this moment of exchange. The work of Brook in particular was contested as neo-imperial and exotifying by Asian cultural activists.
Multicultural policies and awakened public interest in all things Asian in the 1970s and 80s helped bring recognition to theatremakers of Asian descent such as Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang (1957- ), British-Asian director Jatinder Verma (1954- ), and Chinese-American director-choreographer Ping Chong (1946- ), and prompted them to mine ethnic heritage for theatrical materials. Coalitions among ethnic minority practitioners were endorsed and theorized by academia, the media, sponsors and funding bodies, yielding such categories as ‘Asian-American theatre’ (in the United States), ‘Black and Asian theatre’ (in Britain) and ‘Australasian theatre’ (in Australia).
Asian theatre since the 1990s has been increasingly focused on exchange within the region. Japan’s economic boom subsidized Cry of Asia! (1989-1997), a theatre of liberation project bringing together representatives of 15 Asian-Pacific countries; an inter-Asian Lear (1997) directed by Singaporean Ong Keng Sen (1963- ); and the Asian Contemporary Theatre Collaboration (2003-2005). A pan-Southeast Asian Ramayana titled Realizing Rama (1998) was an exercise in ASEAN cultural integration. Singapore’s endeavour to position itself as a cultural capital has underwritten artistic exchange programmes such as The Flying Circus Project (1996-2010), artistic residencies and commissions at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay arts centre (opened 2002) and the Intercultural Theatre Institute for performance training. Outside institutions have taken active interest in regional exchanges and collaborations among emerging and established artists. The Asia Pacific Performing Arts Exchange (1996-2010) was funded by the United States State Department, the Mekong Art and Culture Project (2006-2008) was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and Arts Network Asia (1999-present) is underwritten by the Ford Foundation. Diasporic Asian artists now look increasingly to collaborate with Asian institutions and practitioners, tapping into transnational capital and relocating themselves temporarily or permanently to Asia, in preference to building institutions and alliances in Europe, Australia or the Americas.
The upshot of this heavy cultural traffic is that Asian practitioners are viewing their traditions with new eyes. They are able to draw strategically on their training and ethnic and national identities in collaborative transnational productions that tour globally and confidently rework and play with performance inheritances in post-traditional theatrical productions. Producers of commercial theatre have also awoken to the possibility of creating work for the regional market since the lucrative 2002 Asian tour of the Singaporean musical Chang & Eng (1997). As is the case for most theatre in the world, Asian theatre is predominately created by local artists for local audiences, and is informed by local sensibilities and values. However, what it means to be ‘local’ is changing rapidly due to increased mobility, expanding networks of communication and enlarged cultural horizons.
Matthew Isaac Cohen, Professor of International Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London