Saturday Features

Let there be light

  • An ongoing production exemplifies that superb acting can truly compensate for a lack of a set and a large crew: Factors that are considered staple for a successful play
- Sandesh Ghimire

Feb 10, 2018-

The inherent nature of the act of making a judgment is that it warrants a comparison.  Saying something is good or bad is a consequence of a comparative study. Claims of any kind demands a historical precedence, but since there is no example of non-verbal theatre in recent Nepali memory, the review of Witch, an ongoing production at Sarwanam Theatre has a very limited scope.  However, to provide a frame of reference let’s contrast it with Bhagwat  Tole ma Bolaram, a play that was recently staged at Mandala Theatre.  

The word ‘Witch’ immediately transports the Nepali audience’s mind to the superstitious practice where Nepali women are regularly branded as Boksis (Witch). Going into the theatre, one might expect an exploration of the plight of those who have suffered from the ill tradition. Though the play ends on that note, the title, Witch, can easily be interpreted as a misnomer, and can mislead the expectation of the audience. 

Nonetheless, the greatest virtue of Witch is that, despite the loopholes in the story, it manages to engage the audience without the pomposity of a grand set, or a large crew.  Using only a string of light, that gets repurposed throughout the play to give an accurate impression of  various instances such as stars at night, a door, a garden and even a baby, the four member cast, composed of RK Mehta, Samrant Thapa, Roshani Syangbo and Mani K Rai, manage to convincingly relate the story without any use of verbal language. At a time when theatre productions are using physical acting only to extenuate the impression of drunkenness or to capsulate the character of a shaman who is experiencing a spiritual trance, Witch provides a reminder that even the most nuanced of human emotion can be depicted without any dialogues.  

To provide a contrast, though the story was overly drawn out, Bhagwat  Tole ma Bolaram had a clearer story arc, but the play did not capitalise on the acting potential of the people on stage. The comedy in the play came through the catch phrases of the characters.  Everytime a character in Bhagwat Tole spoke, he began by saying, “Ho pani tara hoina pani” in a very flavourful accent. At first, it was funny but such a constant repetition veered the play towards mindless comedy of many a popular TV serials. However, since the comedy in Witch is entirely physical, it provides the sensation of being situational rather than forcibly imposed. 


 Bhagwat Tole, like most plays, had the frequented punctuation in its flow, because of several breaks for the stage crew to move the heavy set around for different scenes. As with Bhagwat  Tole, Witch takes place in different locations, yet the actors were able to give the impression of the settings by the way they were moving through the space.   

Witch and Bhagwat Tole are completely different projects made with different intentions, however, a comparison allows us to understand how Witch helps to solve some of the technical issues that theatre production regularly encounters.   

Nepali theatre suffers from a financial crunch and having a minimal set opens the space for an imaginative use of the empty space, and also makes it easier for the production  to be taken to various locations, such as rural areas or international festivals. 

Witch also shows it is possible to communicate without the use of language. Furthermore, as Nepali theatre is actively trying to bring out the issues of marginalised communities, non verbal theatre allows it to cross linguistic barriers in conveying a story. Nepali has been the medium for most plays that have been staged in the theatre circuit of Kathmandu, even when the subject matter has varied widely. A recently staged play, Kashidevi, changed the norm by having Maithali as the language used on stage. However, it might not be currently feasible to bring all the ethnic languages on to the stage. Hence, a non-verbal performance might help  bring forth stories that otherwise would have remained unsaid. 


The writer tweets at @nepalichimney

Published: 10-02-2018 08:24

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