One of the inequalities of life is that children may not be allowed for many theatre productions...but adults can certainly go and enjoy children’s theatre. The enjoyment is all the more, when one goes with one’s own child...or grandchildren, because there are then multiple layers to the experience. There was a fairly large audience of children, accompanied by their parents or relatives, to watch “How Cow Now Cow” by the
a group that has just crossed its second birthday.
I have not watched the work of this young theatre group before, and I am always interested in theatre groups that work for children. Whether it’s AHA! (Ranga Shankara’s initiative for children) or Bangalore Little Theatre, I try not to miss any play.
How Now Cow Now (probably a take-off on the English phrase “How now, brown cow” is the story of several animals on a farm but it’s no 1984 George Orwell theme. Rosamma the cow, Yakdu the pig, Kumbhu the dog, Pilpil the fish, and Rambo the rooster all live with Shanegabba, the farmer, on Kochu Manga Mandi farm.
The play’s action, and trouble, starts with Rosamma being highly critical of each and every animal, until she goes to Bangalore International Airport and flies to Africa.The animals wonder what has happened to her...until a crocodile, elephant, giraffe and a host of other animals arrive at the farm saying life in Africa has become difficult after Rosamma arrived, and can they live on the farm? Finally, Shanegabba, he of the luxuriant moustaches, a “pat-patta jeddi", and an undervest (who brushes his teeth outside his bedroom window every morning to see all his animals) decides to take the African animals back, and returns with Rosamma, who doesn’t seem to have changed much. Life resumes on Kochu Manga Mandi farm.
The play was for younger children, and there was no doubt about the cast’s hold on their audience. The play was very interactive, often asking questions of the children, and involving them thoroughly. Responses (and suggestions!) came like confetti from the children through the duration of the performance, and spontaneous applause even before the end of the show clearly conveyed their appreciation.
The play started in an unusual fashion, (I will not spoil the suspense). It carried on with Anirudh Mahesh, Sachin Gurjale (an actor I have followed since I first watched plays by the theatre group ‘rafiki’) , and Shweta Desai used a multitude of props to carry forward the narrative. Did you know that a mop could be a dog, a hot water bottle a fish, a household glove a rooster, and a metal lampshade a pig? Such creative property usage added to the entertainment value of the show. Rosamma was a cow’s head mask, with a lovely cow-bell hanging from her neck.
A lot of shadow puppetry was used too, and the shadow screen was often innovatively used as the bedroom window too! The cast spoke in different voices, sang, conversed with the audience...very versatile performances on the part of the trio. Their choreography was also impeccable, moving in and out of the area behind and in front of the screen, on one occasion, the farmer jumped out into the audience.
The dialogue, which did not feel very “scripted” to me, was mainly in English, with some Kannada sprinkled in here and there. The cast took many cues from the response of the children, and yet stayed with the general narrative.
Both the lighting and the sound were very well done; it was obvious that both the visual and the audio components of the play helped greatly in the production. The costumes were simple everyday clothes, until Shanegabba got into his jeddi and banyan, and sported that rubber-band moustache!
The direction of the play was one of its strong points. Direction of an improvised performance must always have a very light touch, and the best direction is that which is hardly visible; this was the case with this show.
Do I have any nit to pick with a very enjoyable production? Just a few small ones...when introductions were done by Sachin at the end of the show, there was no mention of the crew. The backstage work is just as important as the cast’s acting, and children, especially, should be made to understand this. The Sandbox Collective could also build a good databse of theatre-goers interested in their work by designing a ticket where there could be a tear-off stub where email ids and contact numbers could be written and given back to one of the team. Even a cyclostyled small flier with a few short lines about the play would get the children more interested in how the play is staged, rather than just watching as an audience. And..the show ran for about 70 minutes instead of the stated 50!
And...I do feel (this is subjective) that the production as a whole could do with a little more polishing. This is a difficult point to raise as there was so much improvisation during the show. But the fact that children, as an audience, are far more forgiving of “rough edges” than adults does not mean that the stagecraft need not be a little more professional! I also waited for the photos and material about the group so that I could include it with the review, that I asked for, but I cannot delay too long to write the review.
I spoke to several children about the play. Mayur, from J P Nagar 7th Phase, said his father had told him about the play; his mother Uma brought him there, and she enjoyed the play as much as her son did. Malhar has promised to write about the play...I am eagerly awaiting his review...I will post it in the comments. Kavya and Kalyan enjoyed the play thoroughly too, as did their neighbours, Avni and Atharva. These four were talking about it on their way home, discussing which their favourite character was.
In all, a very enjoyable evening of theatre, which touched upon the importance of the way one is made to feel because of criticism. During the show, several other current issues like pollution, traffic congestion and so on were briefly touched upon,but they were never brought up to a didactic or moralizing level. Our children were allowed to be just children, and enjoy themselves thoroughly. Thank you, Sandbox! I hope the other two shows went just as well, and that you come back again and again to delight the children of Bangalore.
How Cow Now Cow
Directed by Vinod Ravindran
Cast: Anirudh Mahesh, Sachin Gurjale, Shweta Desai
Tickets: Rs. 200