Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Theatre Review: The Great Lalula

Wifey decided to make Cubby part of a historical moment in Rangashankara's history. The first time that they allowed 20 month olds to enter their hallowed halls-- a space normally reserved for 96 month olds and above. The promise was something special, only for infants and toddlers, in a language they'd understand-- Gibberish. We went to see "The Great Lalula".

It was a disappointment.

To be fair, Cubby did enjoy parts of the performance. He stood and clapped and waved his hands in glee. Some kids chanted along with the artists, some completed the rhymes before the artists could and others merely walked up on the stage, mesmerized. Everything you'd expect from a motley crew of 20 to 30 month olds. There was also some talking on the phones, some flashing of digicams and some running up the aisles: stuff you've come to expect from the yuppie, 'adult' Indian audience.

Despite the success of the play in getting li'l children to enjoy some theatre, I came away disappointed. Probably more for how they squandered a wonderful opportunity, rather than the performance itself.

Here are my reasons:

The artists took themselves too seriously. The focus was on technique. Their 'subtle manoeuvres' really didn't engage the "attention" of the young audience. It was a humorless performance.

Then, there was no music. Children respond best to 3 things: music, physical comedy and surprise. Surprisingly, all of these were lacking. The first half of the performance was too silent, broken only by utterances from the "poem". The actions were slow and deliberate, opera-like. It wasn't until they started clanging some utensils (10 minutes into the show of 20-25 minutes) that most children even looked away from their fidgeting to watch.

Secondly, I wish they kept bright lights on and had something cheerful happen on stage (peppy music, funny cartoons, maybe a clown/juggler?) right when the kids entered. The dark theatre intimated the kids and no child let go of their parents. I remember a performance of "Sleuth" at RS where they had "Tom n Jerry" on TV while people walked in and took their seats, just to set the tone for the "cat and mouse games" to follow.

"The Great Lalula" is acknowledged as a precursor to the Dada-ism movement in Germany. It is supposed to reflect the imaginary world of a child, where he can communicate and cook and drive and dress, all in his own way, in his own language (hence, the Gibberish). The thorn in this beautiful concept was playing it subtle. The priority should have been to connect with the children, even if it meant letting down your guard and engage in some goofy humor!

You think I should've gone to a circus, instead? Maybe.

Let the last word belong to the synopsis of this play on the RS webpage:

Imagine bringing your 20-month young into a theatre only to find a party is being organized – a party for children! And then a lady comes on stage and begins to entertain your children with song and dance, all in a language that only children understand! A mesmerizing world where words skip and dance, move, laugh, jabber, murmur, rustle, rhyme and sing.

Yes! That is what I went in expecting. A carnival of music, dancing, juggling. I wanted my kid to come back with stories and memories of that hour inside RangaShankara. I wanted him to enjoy the exhilaration of a live performance (not just TV), to feel at home in the theatre...

Just 10 minutes later, he had no excitement, no stories, nothing to repeat. That's my rant.


Trust me, we really loved this initiative by Arundhati Nag, to have a festival only for children. We have been big fans of Prithvi Theatre while growing up and while RS is yet to grow beyond its very local vision, we want this haven available to Cubby-- even as an iPod toting teenager. We will continue to be part of Aha! next year and every year it happens. With only a prayer that next year, they find some real performances, instead of being happy because a "troupe came all the way from Germany!"...



Poppins said...

Nice review Vidooshak. I like your ideas about what would please the kids. But maybe they didn't want to do slapstick, but how they expected 20 month olds to react to anything so subtle is beyond me too.

As as aside, I sort of expected this y'know. Disappointingly a large number of kids activities we look forward to with great expectations sort of fall flat in the face, it's those unexpected things that bring joy.

We're planning to do the Grabage Mouse Play, and it's a one woman show so I totally do not expect Poppin to get it at all - I just want to give her an experience of the theater, and also more importantly go myself. Same as what we did for Ice Age 3.

Vidooshak said...

Thanks for the quick comment, Su. I do hope Poppin enjoys the Garbage Mouse. If nothing else, at least at her age she will really love the props and decoration in the RS common areas.

As for the vision of the artists, I am OK if they didn't want to do slapstick. But if you read the synopsis of the play, it projects a completely different (and more rational) experience than what finally happened.

All the same, this was MY review. I think my wife enjoyed it a lot more and said Cubby had good fun, too. So money well spent ;-)

Mama - Mia said...

thats quite a rant! phew! now i feel bad about trying to force Cubby to watch when he was just not interested and happy with pen and paper!

and yes after having watched a couple of German / French groups in action during our AF days one expects something LOT better than what was dished out yesterday.

i am guessing a lot of parents would be happy just with the fact that their kids went on the stage and played with the sand because they themselves dont know how it could have been better. or the fact that people would call you stupid if you openly dissed a play thats come all the way from "germany"! :p

a great review! i hope you have sent this feedback to RS as well.



Vidooshak said...

Yup, as Mama-Mia said, we were probably spoilt after watching some preious French/ German productions. The one that had an everlasting impact was "Les Cousins" that AF organized at NCPA many years back.

Found a review of that tour on Hindu.
Read more here:

Toonfactory said...

I remember meeting a Producer who was doing a play for kids which according to her was a massive Hit! But it was a disappointment to see a story which had so much of verbal humor which I don't think is actually kids-friendly way of story telling and when it comes to physical comedy it's either mediocre or very over the top...creating 'Slapstick' Humor isn't easy...and that's something most of the people take for granted...Telly Tubbies (I hate the show to the core but its really successful among its Target Audience) is a very good example of that...

Swati said... it was not different than what I thought. Perhaps we should take them to something more lively at this age like a magic show / puppet show or circus ..lets see if we can find something of that sorts

Poppins said...

Just came back to tell you that we enjoyed Garbage Mouse a lot. I had pretty low expectations but enjoyed it a lot and Poppin was as ever trying to make sense of what she saw and trying to observe it all!

The woman used a lot of props interestingly (and 'wrongly' - which the children were only too happy to laughingly correct) and that was a big part why the play was successful I guess. It's good for children to get the humour and watch something other then cartoons!

P.S Rangashankara is beautiful unfortunately we could not enjoy the common areas since she had a meltdown before the performance :( Maybe one of these days we'll just walk in and do only that.

starry eyed said...

I liked Garbage Mouse with Dhruv...altho' like you I would've preferred more noise and music and attract Dhruv's attention. Still he did watch about half the play, and the woman was pretty funny.

Divya went with hubby for Zapperdockel and the Wock (6-8 yrs), he came away disappointed and bored but she was full of descriptions and stories, which probably means she enjoyed it!

Oh well, I suppose RS will improve as they go along...well begun IS half done! Meanwhile some of the most successful plays HAVE been local ones and score over the present batch at the AHA festival. There was a lovely one a couple of yrs ago...a shadow play from Germany called the King's Journey..excellent...hope it returns sometime.

choxbox said...

hi. a bit late but will still comment.

here's my review of the whole gig -

moved to des last yera, before that we lived in london and were spoilt for choice when it came to kids' theatre. so was only too happy that the AHA! festival came about. yup the actual shows could have been slightly more tuned into the age group they were catering what hey what the heck.

the desi shows - kattaikattu - were very high quality. didnt go for yakshagana but am sure that would've been worth watching as well.

p.s: have met your wifey!