Point of View

This month Avinash D'Souza reviews Trishla Patel's 'Don't Look Now'. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. You are welcome to agree, disagree or comment by emailing us at qtheatreproductions@gmail.com


There are more things in heaven and earth than I have the time to watch but “Don’t Look Now” seemed to warrant a look for sure…

Keeping to the outlines of the short story by Daphne du Maurier, the director, Trishla Patel, stages Don’t Look Now in Shanti Niketan which enhances the element of the supernatural. Perceived as a place of quiet and solitude, this setting is perfect for the main theme - psychic ability and how that relates to time.

A young married couple, Sanjay (Akarsh Khurana) and Aparna (Geetika Tyagi), are holidaying in Shanti Niketan trying to get over the tragic death of their 6 year old daughter. They meet twin sisters, one of who claims to be psychic and that she can see their daughter. Aparna seems to finds solace in the fact that she feels her daughter's life has not ended so abruptly, that there doesn't appear to be a clear division between life and death. Sanjay, however, remains cynical and unbelieving. It is this cynicism that leads him to stay back in Shanti Niketan when Aparna leaves, and be drawn to his inevitable fate.

The play has certain pivotals. One is the pregnant tension of the night walk when Sanjay and Aparna get lost and are startled by a scream. Physically separated from Aparna and seized by panic, Sanjay echoes the physical happenings in his mind with the add-on of a half-seen/sensed flash of red which is the dead child’s attire. The whole episode could have - and in a sense has - a perfectly rational explanation, but it is also a statement of the mind’s powers of unreason in orchestrating fear, and this continues through the play. The other is when Aparna enters a temple to pray because she can’t legitimize what the twins have said about seeing the daughter. Out of pride as a man of reason (which is more desperate struct), Sanjay holds firm to his beliefs; and it is this that drives him to his destruction. He finds himself courting his demon, his alter ego, and finally his death.

The piece works on several levels portraying a marriage and exploring how two people who should be united in their grief end up isolated from each other. But it also operates as a thriller. Withholding information combined with the unknown results in a potent atmosphere with the imagery seen in a gathering, circling way. But for me, it’s the love scene in the play that makes one see the characters in the narrative as people in their own dimensions. It’s a critical element because they’re human and in love. Else, they’d just be scrapping all the time.

Almost mimicking the story’s visions and premonitions, the play is filled with moments that point to some future event. Foreshadowing is used to indicate impending trouble (from the Greek school of theatre), such as when Sanjay sees what he thinks is a small child wearing a hooded jacket fleeing danger through the streets and later, when Sanjay sees Aparna accompanied by the twins.

In past reviews, I’ve moaned about production variables like the lighting and design. Not this time. The way the lighting and set design are meshed is *insert hyperbole of choice here*. The acting is more than capable (particularly Akarsh Khurana) but it’s the production turn in the spotlight. Dhanendra Kawade decimates all. At INR 80.

While the script isn’t as tight as it could be, one must appreciate that since Don’t Look Now is a narrative through John's consciousness, dialogue is scarce. Theatrically, this is problematic as the adapter can’t play on images to fill logic gaps left in the story. That said, while the core characters continue to struggle to align their inner and outer selves, giving them voice enables access to a wider emotional vocabulary and rhythms.

The play might have been better layered if essayed through how Sanjay controls his grief; the revelation that a twin can see their dead daughter is a form of expiation for him. The subtext of this play is the journey Sanjay makes in visiting his emotional wastelands. He exists at a time when he sees his role as a protector, but fails to save his daughter and cannot save his wife from her grief. He seeks to stabilize his inner compass by not leaving the ‘child’ to her own fate, as he believes that she is being pursued by a murderer. Added to his nature is the fact that he has lost his own child and in some way he feels responsible for that. When he sees the ‘child’ and links her in his mind with his daughter, his fate is sealed.

The work revolves around several themes like fate, the vagaries of the unknown, the psychic realm, humanness, gender, class. But it is also about a particular man and a particular woman, and how their lives have been irredeemably affected by a tragedy. It has intensity in a theatrical form: even though the events are not real time, the actual time in which the events are portrayed is in real time. You find yourself leaning forward in your seat, inclined towards the action, losing sense of being in a building, seated among other people. The audience is brilliant at interpreting this tension, and understands it comes from the slippages and leaks of the inner world of a character.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere obscures a script that is unfinished and rough around the edges. For example, we see a state where, though one child, a daughter, has died of meningitis and the mother is heartbroken, her son remains at boarding school while she holidays in Shanti Niketan. While this still-rigid class and gender differences and emotional repression is representative of Du Maurier’s formative experiences, they’re a logical interrupt in the cultural context of India and social revolutions.

Which is not a deal-breaker but it takes away from what could have been a full-feathered play rather than the resultant show. Don’t Look Now transports you to a Borgesian world where the natural and the supernatural coexist, and where life is a dark labyrinth through which man is impelled to run towards an encounter with his ‘demon’. Don’t look now, Trishla might say, but at each sight or sound, the mind draws connections and conclusions from depths of which you know nothing…