• Apr 24,2019
  • In Event
  • By Protima Chatterjee

Revisiting Tagore’s musical play ‘Land of Cards’ – Workshop series presented by Baithak Uk and Sasha Ghoshal, 2018-2019

Rabindranath Tagore’s musical ‘Land of Cards’ is an allegorical play dealing with issues of free will in a totalitarian state, migration, gender rights and the environment.

A prince and his friend are shipwrecked on an island inhabited by cards who work like robots and follow rules. The prince reminds them they have the power of free will, imagination and love and they can break dead rules.

A revolution, led by female cards, happens in the land and the king goes into self-exile.

Last week Sangeeta Datta (director Baithak UK)  faculty and students from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama worked with Sasha Ghoshal,  RCSSD music composer Paul Alan Barker, dramaturge Adam Lenson and two West End actors Molly Lynch and Colin Middleton, to create a short sequence OF TAGORE’S TASHER DESH (LAND OF CARDS) in musical theatre style.

 Trained in musical theatre at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama Sasha led the workshop with his dramatic skill, wonderful vocals and sheer gusto. For the Western trained actors, it was opening up a completely new world to explore. The technical challenge to the music also posed challenges to the acting. But in a few hours they were able to present two sections in an entertaining and provocative manner.

 Last year, Baithak UK conducted a workshop with Sasha for the Senior WacArts students at Hampstead Town Hall.

In October 2018, Baithak UK presented a workshopped edit at the annual cultural festival held by the local community group Hamsptead Durga Puja Committee.  The act featured Sasha Ghoshal, British composer Soumik Datta and filmmaker Souvid Datta in the role of the adventurous prince.

 Director of Baithak UK, Sangeeta Datta says,

“Today’s world is not too far from the context of Tagore’s dystopia.

With Brexit here and right wing politics dominating the Indian elections, we are actually dealing with these live issues of immigration, belonging, censorship and freedom of speech.

At Baithak UK we are revisiting this text in a series of workshops with Sasha Ghoshal who has translated the text in English.

By conducting workshops involving Baithak UK, WAC Arts, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) and my Baithak artists, Sasha Ghoshal will develop this into a full production. The community will be involved in the production as well as learning set design and costume design. This dynamic and diverse collaboration is so exciting and Sasha is uniquely placed for this work.

He holds an unique place today to create exchange and collaboration between the traditions of Western musical theatre and Indian performative traditions. He has translated Land of Cards in English and will work with Baithak UK, Central faculty, West End actors and WAC Arts senior students in a truly collaborative production of the play in Western Musical tradition. “

Baithak UK plan to present a one hour complete edition of the production, during the 4 day annual festival held at the Hampstead Town Hall between 4-8 October 2019.”

Sasha Ghoshal commented:

 “With such a relevant play, you want to make sure that Tagore’s creativity is done full justice.  He wrote it as a musical play but it is always presented as a dance drama. Indians love theatre, music and dance, ‘musical theatre’ has yet to take off in Indian art.

One of the reasons I left India and came to study at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, is because I am so in love with the musical theatre format: actors themselves speak, sing and dance, allowing multiple modes of expression. In musical theatre, everything seems so alive!”

Workshop participants share their unique experience!

Prof. Paul Alan Barker (music composer and Director of MA music theatre, RCSSD): It is an extraordinary privilege to take part in something where I have, from an intellectual viewpoint, very little understanding of the music. All I can go on is how I feel when Sasha sings the songs. I can’t describe how grateful I am for this  “wild” opportunity.

Adam Lenson (dramaturge and musical theatre director): I just had such a fun evening getting to see parts of the show. The music is so beautiful and evocative. The story is both unexpected but very relevant. It kind of feels like it’s metaphorical, that it’s about something we all know…and it’s just lovely to be part of something like this.

Molly Lynch (musical theatre actress):I had the most amazing time. As a vocalist, it’s mind blowing to hear this style of singing and this dramatic difference between what I’m used to singing in Opera and musical theatre and the Bengali style. It’s a whole new aspect for the medium of musical theatre. So it’s very exciting!

Colin Middleton (musical theatre actor): It’s completely unusual to be singing this kind of music for someone like me. When Sasha was teaching me the songs, I was thinking “how am I going to do this?” But the story is beautiful, the music is beautiful…and I think there are touches of Irish folk in there as well! So, it was amazing!

BAITHAKUK tries to make new meaning of a rich Indian cultural legacy to see how this resonates with real life issues here in the UK.

Issues of migration, identity, free will and free speech are being urgently addressed as they affect everyday, lived reality.  Rising intolerance internationally, divisive Brexit politics in Britain and aggressive right wing politics in India threatens the common man’s free speech and free will.

Decades ago, Tagore wrote an allegorical play Tasher Desh (Land of Cards) in 1935 critiquing a dystopian world of rising fascism in Europe. The backdrop was the imminent World War and the nationalist movement in colonial India.

Tagore wrote about a well oiled system crushing free will. The prince, an outsider, reminds the robotlike cards they once had the ability to emote, to speak freely, to love passionately, to sing aloud. The female cards break rules and bring on the revolution.

For more information visit: www.baithak.info



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