It is always pleasant to go to a play which is for children, and even more so when it is being staged to celebrate something good. In this case, it was the play, "Robi’s Garden", which was an original play by Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT), to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Association for the Mentally Challenged (AMC).
BLT was founded in 1960, and is the city’s oldest theatre society. In 2006, BLT set up a separate Academy of Theatre Arts. BLT has a strong programme for children’s theatre, and usually stages a major production every year in the August/September period.
This year, in line with the celebration of the 150th s birth anniversary of our Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, BLT staged "Robi’s Garden", in which the scriptwriter, Vijay Padaki, and the director, Priyadarshini Rao, sourced material from various stories and writings of Tagore, that show, not just the towering intellectual that he was, but his more approachable facet that loved children. The attempt is to stimulate the imagination of the children (and adults) who watch the play.
A series of stories (seven in all) were performed in the form of short vignettes. The introduction had a group of children going into the garden of Jorasanko, where Tagore’s ancestral home is located, in Kolkata, In the courtyard (often a venue for theatre in the days of yore) they meet the caretaker, who seems to be the Kabuliwalla of Robi-da’s creation…who asks them to exercise their imagination freely. The seven stories then segued into one another.
The stories had both animal and human characters, and both child and older artistes brought out the various morals that Tagore would have liked the audience to infer from his stories. The cast of characters includes alternate actors, and the list is too long for me to present here, much as I would like to, to appreciate the effort the artistes have put in.
The costumes added to the magical effect of the production. Sunitha Rajagopalan and Anusha Mujumdar, take a bow, for a job well done! The stage management by Naveen Tater was also well executed; the choreography of actors’ entrances and exits, their positions on stage, were all well-managed.
I must also mention the excellent brochure, put out jointly by BLT and AMC; the goals and achievements of both organisations were highlighted, and it was a colourful booklet to take home and educate oneself about the work that these two groups are doing….and the synergy between them. Credit for this should go to the publicity design by The Other Design Studios.
The stage properties and settings were another plus. Simple, yet colourful, a picket fence, a couple of beautifully painted trees, and other simple props set the tone of the play, and also ensured changes of scene without too much of a fuss.
The volunteers, both from BLT and AMC, had also a major role in the play’s success, and deserve special mention. They worked both behind the stage, and in the auditorium, ensure that everything went smoothly.
However, the first show did suffer from a few drawbacks…and some of them were unavoidable. When the Governor of Karnataka is coming to inaugurate the show, and is accompanied by his retinue, one has to be resigned to a delay…and so it proved. The show, slated to start at 6.30pm, started only around 6.45, and by the time the speeches and felicitations were over and the play started, it was beyond 7.40pm. This meant that the audience, who had to be in their seats well before 6.30pm for security reasons, got restive, and by 8.30pm I saw several people leaving. The rainy season also had something to do with people’s early departures, as they knew they would be battling traffic and weather to get home.
But apart from this, I do feel that the production as such can be tightened up a bit. The 90-minute duration of the play certainly seemed to drag a bit towards the end. The tale that the children themselves contribute, "Profit and Loss", could, I feel, have been cut out altogether by performing the other plays, after all, the children and the older artistes are paying tribute to Tagore anyway. There were also several fumbles in the dialogue delivery, but hopefully, good direction would have taken care of these foul-ups in the later shows.
All in all, though, the play was a very enjoyable one, which I would heartily recommend for the children of Bangalore. Another very praiseworthy initiative by BLT is taking the play to various venues during this stretch, to get more children, and older people, to see this lovely tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, from the stage artistes of this city.