An entertainer across borders.
Robinson And Crusoe is a children’s play as Roald Dahl is children’s literature. While it is a light-hearted entertainer that children will love, it comes with a plotline that even the accompanying adult would find hard to resist. Set on a roof in the middle of an unknown ocean, Robinson And Crusoe is about two soldiers from different countries marooned together. While one talks in English, the other speaks an unrecognizable tongue. Stuck in a tower of Babel situation their initial reaction to each other is hostility. However, as time passes, they learn to appreciate each other and soon, the distrust gives way to friendship.
While Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is often criticized by post-colonial writers to be a colonial novel where the protagonist and Friday are like father and son or master and slave, Robinson And Crusoe with a script only vaguely revolving around the 1719 novel, reads like a subaltern response to it. If Tariq Vasudevan who plays Me-Me is Robinson Crusoe (vaguely), then You-You played by Satya is a sketchy version of Friday – dark, foreign and hot headed. Here they aren’t master-slave or father-son, just friends who work side by side to find a way back to civilization.
The play’s similarity to its namesake book ends here. Through 80 minutes, Robinson And Crusoe directed by Gracias Devraj and written by Nina D’Introna and Giacomo Ravicchio explores the stranded soldiers’ lives as they acquaint themselves with each other. With a growing camaraderie, the two soldiers replace their army fatigues for clothes that they find within the attic of the submerged house. Trying to find a means to survive and to get ashore, the two get nostalgic, get closer and at some point even get drunk. Though the theme of equality in a diverse world makes the play seem like mature fare, kids (and adults) are bound to be enamoured by the play thanks to the physical antics which pumps energy into the narrative. The language barrier between the two characters makes room for plenty of slapstick humour. The play is kept buoyant by the actors who clamber up and down the roof, play pranks on each other and mime exaggeratedly to communicate. An amusing moment in the play is the initial fight sequence which is choreographed in slow motion. However, there is a concept like ‘too much of a good thing’ - despite adding a farce factor to the play some scenes tend to draw out and seem a tad bit pointless. One can’t help but wonder whether the scene in which the soldiers go through a suitcase full of clothing could have been shortened further.
The show stealer however is the awesome set. The Prithvi stage which was covered with a blue sheet had a wooden asymmetrical roof peeking out. The set works brilliantly to create a feeling of isolation right from scene one. As Tariq climbs up the roof to Green Day’s ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’, despite a questionable choice of music, one can feel his loneliness as he jumps up and down the roof or goes into the attic (a trapdoor created on the spine of the roof) only to realize that he is the only one around.
The flawless execution of the light and sound cues only goes further in making the scenes come alive. While it was just a minor aspect, the radio which passes between the soldiers initially and their choice of radio channels defines to the difference between the two.
The desolate setting also gives the play a sense of timelessness. Leaving the characters and the war anonymous, the writers create an endurance to the play that makes sure it stays relevant across all bounds of time and space. The perfect harmony of script and direction in Robinson And Crusoe is further exemplified when the language difference stops being a barrier between the two soldiers. While You-You starts out as incomprehensible to Me-Me as to the audience, as the characters get friendly and Me-Me drops his exaggerated miming, You-You becomes more accessible to the audiences as well. Towards the end, one begins to see a more friendly side of the formerly aggressive You-You.
The only real grouse one can have after watching Robinson and Crusoe is the fact that the script could have been much tighter if it didn’t try as hard at milking humour from the bonding sessions. The children (especially, the younger ones) kept drifting during the more serious parts of the play. However, each minor aspect of the play goes into making it a memorable watching experience and it is highly recommended for anybody above the age of 7.