A still from the rehersal
A still from the rehersal

Edgar & Annabel directed by Sunandha to be staged in the city in Dec

In conversation with DT Next Sunandha Raghunathan opens up on reasons for choosing the script, challenges, working with the cast and lots more.

CHENNAI: Chennai Art Theatre and Guduguduppukkari are presenting their production Edgar and Annabel directed Sunandha Raghunathan on December 3 at 4 pm and 7 pm at Medai. In conversation with DT Next Sunandha Raghunathan opens up on reasons for choosing the script, challenges, working with the cast and lots more.

What made you choose the play, Edgar and Annabel by Sam Holcroft?

I read the play Edgar and Annabel in 2018 and I was blown away. There have only been two plays that have made my heart race when I read them and this was one of them. I spent the next few years promoting this play as if I were being paid for it. Whenever any director friend of mine mentioned wanting to read a good play, I would send them the play. In September this year, a friend and I were reading a play he wanted me to direct. I loved that play but I told him that I would be bringing another play next week for us to read. So, we read Edgar and Annabel and he just sat in shock about how good this play is and we decided to do the play. I finally took the leap from loving to directing it.

What is the play about?

I would say Edgar and Annabel is a dystopian domestic thriller and if it seems like those words are oxymoronic, that’s exactly what Sam Holcroft is going for. It’s all at once, a thriller, a drama, a cautionary tale and a haunting excavation of suburban concerns.

What was challenging about bringing the script to life?

Everything! As I contacted Nick Hern Books who hold the amateur rights for the performance, I was instructed very clearly that not one word could be changed without prior permission from them and that they wouldn’t agree to any changes unless they deemed it absolutely necessary. I wasn’t intending on translating the play into Tamil anyway so we were going to be performing the original text. But the original text was written with London and a white cast in mind. Every time I direct work originated in the West; it feels like an adaptation even when nothing has been changed. By putting brown bodies onstage who go by the names Edgar, Annabel and Miller and are conversing about recycling and complaining that a pint of milk costs £1.90, it already feels like a commentary is being performed while the original text is being staged. In this case, the challenge I adopted was to let these parallel texts interact with one another and see what different dimensions that brought out.

How is this production bringing something new to the story?

We are working with one of the best technical teams in the city. B Charles is donning multiple hats in this production- he is the producer, lighting designer, and set designer. For the first time, we will be using practical lights, the kind that we use at our homes, to light a performance space. Our set will take your breath away as we have a vertical set that is a subversion of the white picket fence. We are also using a sound engineer who will be working with the actors to create echoes in a space even when they themselves are not wearing mics. We are sure it will be magical for the audience.

How was it working with the cast? Were there differences in ideas and opinions?

This has been the most challenging rehearsal process for me. This is the first time I’m working on a play with a large cast. Given that everyone is working on other projects as well, there have been many days when one person or the other is missing and we have had to work with stand-in actors or do a scene that I read from the sides that an actor responds to onstage. I’m used to working in a room with all actors in at all times and I think I prefer that to this way of working. Every rehearsal process brings out different aspects of actors and your own that you have to deal with. The question isn’t whether there are differences of ideas and opinions or not, it boils down to - when there is a difference of opinion, how do we deal with it? I respect my actors immensely. I don’t hold their hands or hold them back. But I also know what I want. So, I give my actors free reign to explore the scene within the limits that are set by the play and the playwright and if I feel they are straying away from the story, I will pull them back. I like to say, ‘This is a democracy but I am the tiebreaker.’

Who do you think should come and watch the show?

This is a play that has action, singing, comedy and intimate scenes. Anybody who loves the theatre is absolutely going to love the play. Regardless of whether they watch musicals or drama; whether they are used to Tamil plays or have only ever watched short plays in English if they like theatre, they will be blown away by the production that we are mounting.

What are you looking forward to from the show?

I have gambled with the way the scenes are being staged. I’m most curious to hear what the audience has to say about the whole production and most importantly if they were entertained by it.

Tickets available on BookMyShow.

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