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     Volume 7 Issue 11 | March 14, 2008 |

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Amputation of the Soul

Rezwan Ali

Projecting the macabre side of state-control.

Upon entering the auditorium the audience leaves the real world behind and enters a dark, surrealist, and even comedic dystopian universe. The first ten minutes consisting of a dark and empty stage with three top lit bodies hanging from nooses with black bags tied over their heads - reminiscent of the black hoods that the American military uses in Iraq. The sound of an industrial heartbeat throbs as the three figures swing back and forth slowly in pillars of blue light. The Director, Kamaluddin Nilu, his cast, and crew certainly succeeds in creating a sense of heightened tension and foreboding from the very beginning of Jens Bjorneboe's, “Amputation.”

The setting changes frequently and abruptly. This is done with a mature, sophisticated approach, employing all manner of theatrical technique. Throughout the entire play, the lighting stands out. Light, and the absence of, are used with precision, allowing for the abrupt scene changes which would have been pedestrian at best if done otherwise.

The three bodies swing from their nooses as the stage lights reveal a group of military personnel. As the lights shift suddenly the nooses fall and the, “bodies,” join in an African tribal styled song and dance routine; a most absurdist juxtaposition that brings out both laughter and shock from the audience.

A victim of 'mind controlling brutality'

In a government run, “polyclinic,” medical experiments are being performed upon citizens whose behaviour doesn't agree with the rules and regulations of the state. Dr. Fortinbras and Professor Vivaldi are a surgeon and professor of medicine working for the government's brainwashing programme. Both the doctor and professor seem to be missing a few screws. A young girl and her lover who care about nothing but each other and a young man, Adolf, who doesn't want to give in to nationalism, are the main characters. The main characters complain about how society will not let them be themselves, to think their own thoughts. They are forced to repeat self-deprecating statements as they undergo abuse at the hands of the cruel military (”I am nothing without my government,” “I am nobody! I am worth nothing!,” “Think about everyone else, not you,” etc).

The story is told in a non-linear fashion which adds to the sharpness of set design and slows the sometimes breakneck pace of certain scenes. At times, particularly during the flashback scenes, physical/linear time seems to become metaphysical time as the production is invoking the viewer to make correlations between what is happening onstage and their own lives. During one flashback scene, the head nurse, now in a wheelchair, talks about her past love affair. Suddenly we are thrust into a simple yet resonant scene arrangement. The two young lovers are talking, whispering sweet nothings to each other and such as they hold each other in the grip of passion, but the props, an institutional styled wire frame bed and a barred window behind them, give the viewer a sense of the lovers' perilous fates.

The play has a macabre, ominous surface, yet beneath that darkness lies a vibrantly colourful surrealist facet of the production. A skeleton and a nurse slow dance to an old lounge tune as pairs of military troops dance in pairs in the shadows. Later, the skeleton takes centre stage with an endearing serenade which is both humorous and unsettling at the same time. There is a psychological game going on as well. At times the viewer isn't sure whether laughing will be appropriate or not - part of Bjorneboe's genius - causing the audience of his play to engage in the same behaviour that he is giving warning about.

Grisly scenes from the play.

The rather explicit sexual scenes were handled with impressive creativity. The use of props and the reactionary expressions of side characters gave credibility to the scenes that contained sexual themes even under the artistic constraints that the local theatre industry deals with. The visual language of the production was full of rhetorical imagery, which helped add a tasteful potency to certain scenes which contained overt sexual and violent imagery that could not be shown in full.

All of the characters are desperately seeking an escape, be it physical or emotional, even the military troops and nurses working under the maniacal doctors. During one scene, two military troops are embracing when the young girl who has come to talk with them approaches them. After interrogation she admits that she is in love. Without pause the two who were embracing just moments earlier begin to sadistically torture the girl; reminding the viewer about the hypocritical nature of many power systems. In another scene, a nurse suggests that they allow a prisoner to go outdoors daily. The doctors chastise her for her independent thinking, imprisoning and sexually torturing her.

Another theme which comes up repeatedly in, “Amputation,” is the sense of alienation from oneself. We see Adolf break down, on many levels, before our eyes under the force of the military troops who are brutalizing him. That scene contains a duality which is very absorbing. We watch Adolf resist at first, and then after repeated beatings, sexual humiliation and other “punishment camp” techniques, he gives in the troops. Licking their boots with such fervour and marching around aimlessly at their commands, this scene which appeals to the audience's heartstrings at first slowly brings about apathy which then transmutes into pure hilarity due to the ridiculousness of what is being seen. A female military troop performs her duties as ordered, but goes stargazing at night. When she is caught outdoors she is accused of trying to escape and taken back to the medical lab for punishing.

The music consists of mostly Western standards such as Queen's “We Will Rock You,” Pink Floyd's “Hey You,” and some whimsical pieces such as, “Who Let The Dogs Out?” which adds a lightness to the production which might otherwise be too sombre. The choreography is quite good at times and other times it leaves much to be desired. Nurse Lucrezia's dance scenes are especially funny, but some of the scenes involving a large number of actors are too dense and the stage space might be better used at times. At times the dialogue is barely discernable, albeit during minor scenes.

“Amputation” is not a theatrical performance intended for children or those who cannot withstand imagery of gore and sexual violence. While it may come across as a perverse, nihilist work, there is something to be learned here. It is an ode to individuality and a razor sharp criticism of any and all systems of control. Bjorneboe put it best when he said he wrote the play to be, “Directed against those forms of society that do not allow room for people who think different from those in power.”

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