UK artists using solo theatre for a cause

Blurring the gap between art and activism, UK artists are arousing attention on issues like rights of the disabled and racial discrimination through solo theatres.

PTI| Updated: Oct 16, 2014, 10:28 AM IST
UK artists using solo theatre for a cause
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Kolkata: Blurring the gap between art and activism, UK artists are arousing attention on issues like rights of the disabled and racial discrimination through solo theatres.

In the solo drama "If These Spasms could speak," Scottish artist Robert Softley Gale crawls onstage to give audience the lowdown on his life and those of others who have a disability.

During the three-day 'Going SOLO' theatre festival which ends today, Gale who is also a disability rights activist uses humour as a tool to say the most difficult things in a light and easy manner.

Olivier Award winning producer, actor, director and writer Guy Masterson on the other hand highlights religion-based racial discrimination in his 70-minute-long play 'Shylock'. "There isn't much difference between art and activism. If you start lecturing people no one will understand," Masterson said during the Kolkata leg of his India tour.

Giving a context to the life of Jews in those days, he explains how the character Shylock in the Shakespearean play 'The Merchant of Venice' was a victim of circumstances. "Jews were always depicted as a comic villain in that period. I hope after watching the play people start sympathising with Shylock," he said. 

The theatre festival's director Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Arts said this year's primary theme explores the challenges of human nature and human spirit of survival. "Exploring the pain, the joy the highs and lows of being marginalised or discriminated against, the plays are a celebration of human spirit," Roy said.

Jaye Griffiths brings out the true story of a cerebral palsy patient Nihal Armstrong who died aged 17. 'Don't Wake Me: The Ballad Of Nihal Armstrong' narrates his mother's tireless battles and inspiring triumphs in her struggle for her disabled son's rights.

Guy Slater, who directed the play, said it is immensely rewarding for him both artistically and personally. British Council India director Rob Lynes said the works highlight UK's leading role in arts and disability and will open up dialogue on the transformative power of arts in society.

On the efficacy of solo theatre, Gale said, "The show becomes more about you and the audience, whereas if you're acting with other people, it becomes a collective exercise. So that exchange between performer and audience becomes much more intimate and important."

Masterson agrees saying solo makes the message more powerful and the audience also enjoys more. "These are issue-based works but highly entertaining. The topic of racial discrimination is very contemporary even now and all over the world," said the veteran artist who has worked on over 150 shows.

After performing in Delhi and Kolkata, the festival will now travel to Bangalore and Mumbai.