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The Sadhu tale with an Iere touch
The 2018 Iere Theatre performance of Temple in the Sea meets the company’s usual high technical production and musical standards but this time minus some of the creative values that made productions such as Takdir and Sundar among the best local theatre has offered in recent memory.
The production ran at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) from May 25 to 27. It was last staged by Iere in 2012.
Playwright/director, Victor Edwards, clearly wrestled with the lure of pedantry in faithfully scripting the tale of intrepid Hindu devotee, Sewdass Sadhu, and the challenge of a more creative narrative.
This yielded a production that at times, particularly in the earlier scenes, drifted into the dramatic valley of mawkish preachiness. Sadhu (played by Martin Sahadath) is presented as veritable saint while important elements of the Sadhu storyline are not adequately treated with.
It was not very clear, for instance, that the devoted Hindu’s experience in India upon his return had inspired a desire to replicate the Ganges experience on the tropical Caribbean island where he once lived and that he had returned as a pretty hardnosed businessman.
So, in the exchange between Sadhu and Boss Sahib (Hugh Ramlal)—who is represented as a comic character—it is not established why the temple builder would want to turn down the offer of mangrovefilled swamp land, which, in any event, is an offer the Boss has no intention of honouring through to completion.
As the plays continues, however, the writer opts for greater use of metaphor and clever references to contemporary developments.
The flow of the action also picks up against the backdrop of an excellent score performed by a four-player band led by percussionist Kiran Sankar and including Vandana Tulsie, Ahbijit Anchortassoo and Srishti Shiva Ramdass.
The show’s programme is short on information regarding general choreography, with the exception of reference to Reshma Doon-Seepersad’s role as “the graceful dancer” (which she is), but Iere also has a reputation for excellently choreographed moves on stage. Temple is no exception.
The action on stage is flawlessly directed and executed.
Ramlal is clearly the veteran on stage but the secondary character roles played by Geneva Drepaulsingh, Ambika Ramdass and Chelsea Ramjit provide evidence of high levels of competence. Drepaulsingh, an Iere regular, is an exceptional talent on stage.
Edwards draws attention to the parody of a classroom setting during which a teacher instructs her pupils in the ways of Christianity and colonial citizenship.
This is delightfully executed and is later referenced when Hosay celebrations by the Muslims are forcefully and fatally put down by security forces and Hindu witnesses to the tragedy assess the implications for their own well-being.
There is, in the process, more than indirect reference to the recent “hijab” issue at Lakshmi Girls High School in St Augustine.
Then there are instances when there is manipulation of time and historical event. Though the action in the play is meant to depict developments in the 1940s and 50s, there is reference to the general election campaign of 1966.
The events of the divisive election campaign are juxtaposed alongside the late prime minister Eric Williams’ retort following the West Indies federal elections of 1958, when he described the country’s East Indian community as a “recalcitrant and hostile minority.”
The 1966 election actually occurred years after Sadhu had completed work on the temple. The impact of this, Edwards however contends in his director’s note, is to illustrate that “not much has changed.”
Temple in the Sea works well as a more or less faithful narrative on the life and times of the pioneering holy man of Waterloo.
It however works better as an exhibition of fine acting accompanied by delightful music and dance bearing the distinctive Iere stamp.
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