When theatre maker Yuki Ellias began working last year on The Far Post, which speaks of war and peace, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a few months away. The play will now open at the time of Israel’s siege of Gaza. An open rehearsal of the play in Mumbai on 21 November, thus began with a prayer for peace.
It is also what Mumbai-based Ellias manages to do time and again through her performances. An overriding universal theme narrows in on the deeply emotional and personal. The trigger for The Far Post lay in a mask by Swiss artist Pierre Filliez, which caught her attention during the pandemic. Ellias wanted to try something new and create a performance with fewer words. A mask supported this, with a combination of devised work and mime.
The Far Post is a result of the G5A Foundation’s (a non-profit that focuses on contemporary experimental art and culture) “In Residence programme” and has been co-produced with Ellias’ theatre group Dur Se Brothers. It is the story of two soldiers from across enemy lines, who have died in battle, and now must journey through the afterlife to their final destination. The border lies in no man’s land, in mountainous terrain. Aiding them through this mystical journey is a Postman Aunty and a goldfish. The border slices through the post office/home and she needs to clock in and out when going to her bedroom. Her job is to deliver mail to soldiers on both sides.
Through these letters, tales of mothers and sons, of nations and redemption come to light. They are told in the tribal dialect of Lepcha with English subtitles for the audience. They are also significant in helping delve deeper into the war, conflict, and its human cost.
The primary cast features two actors, Ellias and Tapas Boro, who is also the choreographer of the play. Together they bring the Postman Aunty and the fish alive. Other characters are masked too, designed and operated by the team. An elaborate crew creates a harmony of lights, music, and set changes that make magic happen.
Collaborators on the project, Sofiyum, a Gangtok-based Lepcha band that uses traditional folk instruments, are stationed on one side of the stage. Composed specifically for the production, their songs of war and peace lend a surreal touch to the performance.
Ellias spent a lot of time in extensive research on the subject of women in wartime. Props form an essential part of The Far Post. They are quirky, and portable enough to pack in suitcases, and have stories of their own. Yardage of fabric comes to represent elements of the story and also the terrain—rivers that ebb and flow, and more.
The play has mystical elements, a humane story, and an underlying appeal for peace. It also does this in a manner that is both approachable and engaging.
Apart from the live and recorded music, and atmospheric sounds, The Far Post must be watched for its movement design and choreography. The actors, Boro and Ellias, move with grace across landscapes, real and imaginary. They break notions of what puppetry can achieve when in sync with the body.
How did Postman Aunty end up on both sides of the border? How does she comprehend the war? And most importantly, will she be able to do her job and deliver the ultimate package of redemption to the soldiers journeying to the afterlife? The Far Post seeks answers to such complex questions, prompting you to think and contemplate all through this multi-sensorial journey.
The Far Post (part of the Manam Theate Festival) will play on 16 December, 4.30pm and 8pm, at MCR HRD Institute, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
Prachi Sibal is a Mumbai-based writer.