The Devil’s Ownhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/the-devils-own/

The Devil’s Own

A well-groomed Devil and a harassed God inhabit Deepan Sivaraman’s retelling of Ibsen’s play,Peer Gynt.

In a cold,antiseptic morgue,a man’s naked body is spread on a table. The only other figure present is a dog — make that the skeleton of a dog. It strides across the floor,next to a pulsating,beeping human heart. Near the corpse,materialises a doll-like figure dressed in white,clutching a bridal bouquet,and with frozen tears on her face. From the first act itself,Thrissur-based director Deepan Sivaraman,38,has put his disturbing stamp on Henrik Ibsen’s classic,Peer Gynt. Macabre puppets and dead people who carry their own skeletons abound in this Malayalam-English adaptation that will be staged today as part of the 14th Bharat Rang Mahotsav,the annual theatre festival of the National School of Drama (NSD).

A few years ago,audiences at another Sivaraman play,Spinal Cord,had carried back haunting images of an 80-year-old woman wandering on a dark stage dragging a puppet and jabbering about her murdered son. The play had picked up seven honours at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2010,including the Best Stage Design Award. “I don’t work on scripts,I work on scenography,images that bring a play to life,” says Sivaraman. A Charles Wallace Scholar,he now teaches at Wimbledon College of Arts in the UK,and is working on a research project titled “Spatial Identities and Visual Language in Theatre”.

Sivaraman laughs off his fixation with the gory and the ghastly,but an old memory stirs to life: “When I was young,I had a job of painting the names of dead people on graves. I quite enjoyed it.” Peer Gynt was a commissioned project for the Ibsen festival by the Norwegian Embassy and Delhi-based arts organisation DADA,but the play,among Ibsen’s most complex and fantastical,seemed tailor-made for Sivaraman. “My play starts where Ibsen’s ends,with Gynt’s death. Gynt asks God to give him another chance to be a better man. The Devil,however,is convinced that an evil man will never change,” he says.

The story of Gynt’s life becomes a platform for the director’s political commentary — Gynt becomes an NRI businessman involved in mining and arms deals. “All along,the Devil walks with him,” says Sivaraman,explaining that the story explores the universal tussle of good and evil. The Devil,in this play,dresses slick and lives a relaxed,happy life. God,on the other hand,is a stressed-out insomniac,who worries about growing evil. One of the latter’s pastimes is to collect the hearts of dead men,so that he can study how they turned evil.

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“Theatre should challenge and provoke. I have a political statement to make,that’s why I am a theatre director,else I would have been a chef,” states the director,who recently collaborated with UK-based theatre director Jane Collins in a play about urban spaces titled Romeo,Juliet and the Security Guard. “In the play,the Security Guard is wondering if he has any right to the urban space because it had once belonged to farmers,” says Sivaraman. He negotiates space even in Peer Gynt. In fact,he banishes the audience area. People sit on the stage and watch the action unfold. This includes having a dog-skeleton wandering among them.

Peer Gynt will be staged today at Kamani auditorium at 7 pm. Contact: 23387137