Pure Theatre Experience
Roysten Abel, renowned for his stunning theatrical works such as Maganiyar Seduction as well as A Hundred Charmers, will be bringing his latest work The Kitchen to Penang this month for George Town Festival 2014. We managed to steal a few moments with this Keralan-born playwright to speak about theatre in general and this unique production.
What is the concept behind The Kitchen?
There is no story, The Kitchen is a pure theatre experience, and it’s an attempt at trying to arrive at a pure experience without having to involve the audience in any kind of story or anything like that. It’s what I’ve been trying to do with my last few productions. The Kitchen is a husband and wife who are cooks in a temple and they are preparing this offering for all the people who are coming and that’s their job. It’s this whole process of cooking – which happens with food that’s being cooked – the life, emotion, and relationship between the two people that is then interpreted and brought out by the 12 drummers that are in a larger vessel. It’s all these three things combined that give you an experience and that’s what The Kitchen is all about.
The musical experience comes from the drummers, but why did you specifically pick these 12 Mishavu drums from Kerala?
Aesthetically, these 12 drums look like pots; the sound of the drums is also very special. When all of the drums are all played together, there’s a resonance of the omkara, which according to Hinduism is the sound that’s produced when the Earth is moving or when the universe is in motion. The drum is actually a very holy object; it’s the only drum that’s allowed into any sanctum sanctorum of any temple in India. And it is also treated like a human being. For example, when it is ready to be played, it is given an initiation ceremony before being played and once it can’t be used anymore, it’s given a funeral. So it’s almost like a human being. It’s with all these things together that made me want to use this special drum for the show.
Did you have difficulty coordinating the entire show and these drummers?
(Laughs) Well, it’s quite an effort, plus there are only 15 to 16 people who can actually play these drums in the whole of India!
For the production of The Kitchen, you used a lot of food ingredients. Do you guys finish the food or just give it away?
Yes, rice, sugar, milk, clarified butter, almonds, raisins, cashew nuts, and all of that. We actually distribute it to the audience, the audience comes in, they see the show, the smell the food, they hear what is being played, and finally they taste what’s being cooked.
What do you think is the role of theatre in modern society?
It plays a very important role in society, as it is an art in itself. It is an essential necessity like food, and theatre provides that. It helps people become better human beings more than anything else. And it helps them go and lead their lives better as well as do their work better, it actually contributes to the holistic development of society. That’s what theatre does.
With the rise of YouTube and social media, has new media changed theatre?
With the way that YouTube and Facebook has helped, it’s great for the outreach. It’s great in letting people know that there are performances. Also, people get to see glimpses of the performances and it raises their curiosity. This gets more people into the theatre or even makes them aware of various kinds of productions around the world.
If you could describe The Kitchen in less than five words, what would it be?
Ah, how can I explain something that has taken years to make in less than five words? Hmm, I would just call it a multisensory experience.
Date 22 – 23 August ‘14
Time 8.30pm – 9.45pm
Venue Lebuh Light, George Town
Ticket RM20 – RM200
George Town Festival 2014 is happening throughout this month. Details about shows and ticketing are available at www.georgetownfestival.com.