Saturday, August 20, 2011



How do you elaborate in a thousand words what the play encapsulated in three? ‘the Travelling Circus’ is brilliantly named, neatly choreographed and is sincere enough with its emotions. It enlarges Mike Masilamani’s quirky little story called ‘the Boy who Spoke in Numbers’ to fit the estranging motifs of a Brechtian play. It’s a street demonstration on stage where technology adds to the impact – we have shrieks and booms and magnified voices, monotones and back-projections in a sort of augmented reality in which the play finds nourishment. It’s too sensitive to be questioned, more so when it laughs at itself, where it surprises you with sparks of wit and irony. It’s like an Awareness Campaign that scores with heart armed by concept, but it scores points for conception on its own as well. There are moments when you’re truly touched, there are those when you can’t help but laugh out loud. And in the end you find you can’t get past the plight it depicts, in a bittersweet realization.

Two things – two distinctively singular sequences that, I felt, lifted the play. One where the play’s central theme of being ‘caught in the crossfire’ is made literal and the other, a scatter of lines here and there with which the characters narrate the trauma of their fictionalized lives. It’s slightly disappointing that ‘the Travelling Circus’ doesn’t take a side in Sri Lanka’s Civil war, but that’s only because it doesn’t want to. It voices the ‘Internally Displaced’ – Ignorant Defeated, it calls them. They’re refugees in their own country, subjugated and thrust with authority that’s plainly unwelcome. Soldiers in a war they don’t accept, their hope is deceptive, their fates unkind. And you’re made to wonder what’s more horrific about what you see – the situation of these people, or the fact that they’re having to reconcile with it.

Yet, the play is diplomatic – in the sense that it’s clear it’s a play. The characters have no names, they’re all ‘Boy’ and ‘Cow’ and ‘Kind Aunty’ and ‘Madam’. Sometimes the actors are emotionally absorbed into the premise, sometimes they stick out with acting performances. They speak in an English that’s hard to place, most of it predominantly of an obvious British tongue. We know the actors are Sinhalese, but the same cannot be said about their characters. Perhaps the play intends to be secular, perhaps it’s content with depicting one side of a story that deems itself sad. For all we know, the other side could be worse. It IS worse, as a matter of fact. But those horrors are skated upon in a whirlwind of dates and statistical data in the numbers that the Boy recites. The numbers are the heart of the play and they, in turn, are largely unclear. And the play then closes, hinting at a future Sri Lanka inspired and governed by those events and incidents that threatened to thwart its integrity. A rather soft ending, I should say.

‘the Travelling Circus’ is a people’s play and not a political play. It offers solace, not a solution. It’s an hour of substantial sympathy and empathy, from housewives to housewives who are going through worse; from Mothers to Mothers as they shudder in fear and from boys to boys, shell-shocked. It scores with self-empowerment, although it retracts to passiveness at times. And I repeat: It is NOT a political play. To call it one would deem it unworthy of the praise it receives, and I want to praise it. It’s an engaging play, a single tragic fable presented with quirks that make it both likeable and strong. Hence, it is but my sincere request to all alike: Please do not call it political. There’s nothing ‘political’ about human suffering, right from Joan of Arc to little Anne Frank and the Holocausts. And there’s nothing political about ‘the Travelling Circus’ either. It’s a reflection of an incorrigible human nature which consumes its own kind. A chilling experience, acted out – methodically, and sometimes strikingly so.

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