Last year, Bruce Guthrie, the head of theatre and film at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), directed Every Good Boy Deserves Favour—a play which saw an eclectic cast come together for the adaptation of Sir Tom Stoppard’s dark satire. This time, Guthrie wanted to try something smaller and more intimate and so, he turned to Irish playwright Conor McPherson—known for his poetic language and sense of the supernatural—for inspiration.
Familiar with the playwright’s works, including The Weir, Dublin Carol and Girl from the North Country, since his days at drama school, Guthrie chose the 1997 play St Nicholas as his next directorial venture. “I have been a big fan of his work for a long time. He really pulls elements of the supernatural in his world and has a modern take that weaves traditional aspects of storytelling along with elements of something bigger than ourselves; I really love that,” he says. In St Nicholas, a jaded theatre critic desperate for true love falls into the clutches of bloodthirsty vampires. Originally starring eminent theatre and film actor Brian Cox, and later making its Off Broadway debut at Primary Stages in the U.S. in 1998, St Nicholas is about one man and his confessions of a cynical and lovelorn life.
Ask Guthrie what made him choose this particular play and he responds, “I’m friends with actor Brendan Coyle (of Downton Abbey fame) and he had acted in a production of the play a few years ago. I did not get to watch it but he spoke with a lot of passion about it. Later, a member from my advisory committee here also suggested it and said it would be fantastic to stage it for the Indian audience,” he shares.
Zafar Karachiwala, whom Guthrie had worked with in his last production, was selected for the part of the theatre critic in the one-man play. The actor has been a part of quite a few ensembles including The God of Carnage and Class of 84, and is excited about the prospect of single-handedly holding the audience’s attention for the duration of the play.
“I believe St Nicholas is a play which is not meant to be read but to be performed on the stage,” he says, adding that the beauty of the play lies in its writing. “There are short sentences, thoughts and ideas which start making sense when the words are said out aloud. It is written the way we think; not the way we read. Movements, actions and thoughts happen because of the way he has written it,” he explains. With no stage directions given in the text of the play, it is also open to interpretation.
The choice of making the character a theatre critic, Karachiwala believes, is a metaphor of sorts. “In a way, he is living off other people’s work. Questions are posed throughout the play about humanity and love. What is true love? Do we need this rat race in life to achieve what we want or can we be content with who we are and who we love? Do we give and receive in equal measure? It is the purest form of theatre which is just about telling a story and at the same time, it has so many levels,” he adds.
The choice of the Little Theatre for staging the play is an interesting one for its intimacy and aesthetics and the relationship it allows between the actor and the audience. “It is about having a 100 people in a room being told a story which is slightly otherworldly but utterly truthful,” Guthrie signs off.
St Nicholas will be staged on October 15 at 5 pm and 7.30 pm at Little Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai.
Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based art and culture writer.