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    Volume 9 Issue 22| May 28, 2010|

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Anika Hossain

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

A hush fell over the audience each time, as they sat motionless and expectant, waiting for the curtains to rise. The third International French Drama Festival was in full swing, flaunting popular French plays depicted in Bengali, some being staged for the first time. The success of the previous festivals warranted another magical, emotional and mesmerising experience and it was obvious that the viewers could not wait for the adventure to begin.

A variety of plays were chosen for the festival and each brought out different emotions in its audience. "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre, performed by Biborton Theatre group from Jessore was about three prisoners, condemned to death during the Spanish Civil War. The title refers to the wall, which was used by firing squads when they executed prisoners.

The audience watched in agony as the prisoners, who were wrongly accused of their crimes struggled to deal with the idea of death and what it would mean for each of them. The psychological trauma they were going through agitated terrified and devastated the audience.

Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" by Prachyonat. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Marc Camoletti's "Don't Dress For Dinner" performed by Shobdo Natyochorchakendro and Natukey Theatre Group, was about a cheating husband who plans to take his mistress on a romantic outing, in a farmhouse just outside Paris hiring a chef and inviting his friend for dinner to make the evening perfect. In a bizarre twist, his mistress starts suspecting him of having an affair with the chef and the chaos which entails adds to the hilarity of the situation, sending the audience into peals of laughter. "The forced marriage" by Moliere, performed by Theatre for Cancer Foundation was just as funny, telling the story of a middle-aged bachelor, who was afraid to die alone and decided to marry a girl half his age and finally settle down. The girl however, had her own agenda and wanted to marry him for his money. When he finds out, he tries to break off the engagement, but her brother ends up challenging him to a duel, forcing him to marry her. The comedies also included Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" performed by Theatre Baily Road, which was about a master and his servant who are constantly bickering but can't seem to do without each other. The servant is threatening to leave throughout the play, but can't bring himself to do so. Also shown in the play are the master's disgruntled parents, who live in garbage bins downstage. Altogether, an extremely entertaining performance.

Then there were the thinkers, such as Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros", using an imaginary epidemic disease, which turns everyone in a small town into rhinos as a metaphor of totalitarianism which was in rise in Europe during the Second World War. Although this play included important and serious issues about conformity and resistance, the theatre group, Prachyonat, managed to add comic relief to it, which entertained the audience while getting the message across. "Drums on the dam" by Helene Cixous showed central China in the 10th century, threatened by a huge flood. It was up to the king Khang to make the difficult decision to destroy a dam and sacrifice two small villages in order to save a city nearby. This was performed by a group from the Fame school of Drama from Chittagong.

Helene Cixous's "Drums on the dam" by Fame School of Drama. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The set designs, lighting and sound effects were nicely done in each play and each of the groups made the most of their budget, but the acting stole the show. The actors were young and energetic and extremely dedicated to their performance. They drew in the audience with their talent and passion, and entranced them until the make-believe world on the tiny stage started to seem real. I personally wanted to audition for one of the groups after I watched them cast their spell. The auditorium at Shilpakala Academy was packed during most of the shows and Camelotti's "Don't Dress for Dinner" was staged a second time because of it's popularity.

Jatras or stage plays have been an important part of the Bangladeshi culture for many years. This festival, organised by Alliance Francaise de Dhaka in association with Natukey and the Fame School of Dance Drama and Music, introduces Bangladeshis to foreign plays, both classic and contemporary, to new ideas and concepts and give them a glimpse of the French lifestyle, all of which was much appreciated. The inauguration and closing ceremonies were attended by well-known and respected personalities. Among them were the chief guests Colonel Shawkat Ali, Deputy Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament and the State Minister of culture, Advocate Promod Mankin. The event was sponsored by City Bank and American Express. All in all, it can be said that the festival was a major success and all the organisers, theatre groups and actors can be congratulated on a job well done.

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