‘Now the focus is on the material of theatre’

Print edition : April 18, 2014
Interview with M.V. Narayanan, Professor of English, University of Calicut.

M.V. NARAYANAN, Professor of English at the University of Calicut, was in the three-member team that organised the colloquium at the ITFoK. He was able, with clarity and scholarship, to map the trajectory of theatre theory and practice.

Has body become central to the new discourse of theatre?

There is a moving away from the literary text to focus on the actuality of theatre. It is a moving away from tradition to what is actually happening, a looking at the self. Body and space are becoming key issues in our discussions in theatre. Now the focus is on the material of theatre. Words are becoming less important. If it is through the body you know the world, body becomes an embodiment of culture.

With the self forming the epicentre, does it take theatre away from the community?

Body is not necessarily the individual body. Chandralekha’s work focussed on the body in many different ways. They were bodies in interaction with each other. So, questions like what is body? what can be done? how do you work through the body? come up. In all these questions, there are other bodies involved. Pinter speaks of a door. Its very presence constitutes anticipation. If a person comes in, it changes the dynamics of the room. If no one does, there is anticipation of someone coming. The presence of a body is always in anticipation of another. So body is not a biological body but a cultural body.

Is theatre more political than before? Can we wish away tradition?

As spectators, audience, theatre makers, we are perhaps more aware of it. In the world that we live in, every action is loaded, it is difficult to ignore that. He or she is constrained to act in a certain way, question in a certain way. This knowledge is reflected in their practice and work.

Having said that, in all these years of history was there anything that was apolitical? Our life is made up of stories; we are constantly making stories and it is something that we can never avoid. We need to be conscious of the various levels of the story. We unmake one thing to make something else of it. Interpretations always try to be total, whereas phenomena are not.

A performance like Mephisto Waltz coexists with Bharatanatyam and Koodiyattam; however, the responses to them are contemporary. You can fight and resist Bharatanatyam and Koodiyattam, nevertheless you are working within it.

Why does theory and practice always remain separate?

It is true of most creative discourses. They are like oil and water. There needs to be a dialogue, but there are also limitations to that dialogue. In fact, writers like [Wole] Soyinka spoke about the importance of knowing the “nitty- gritty of theatre”. I am not sure how far a critical discourse will help a creative artist. Theory is another ball game altogether.

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