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Peter Brook’s “Battlefield”

November 20, 2015


Event: Peter Brook’s “Battlefield” presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre
Venue: Capitol Theatre
Run: 17th – 21st Nov 2015

War and Peace

Legendary director Peter Brook revisits one of his seminal productions, the epic nine-hour staging of “The Mahabharata” 30 years ago, but this time in the form of a condensed 70-minute epilogue focusing on the epic battle at the end of the revered Sanskrit text.

The production first opened in the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, Peter Brook’s long-time theatre home, and made its international premiere here at our Capitol Theatre, after which it will travel to London, Sydney and Tokyo.

While The Mahabharata is a sweeping epic of over 74,000 distinct verses, making it one of the longest poems in the world, “Battlefield”, adapted and directed by both Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, tells of the blind King Dhritarashtra, who cedes power to his eldest son Yudhishthira in light of the aftermath of a great war.

The war has been won, but as the family begins to count its cost, it begins to realise that victory seems to bears the bitter taste of defeat.

How much have they really achieved?

And at what cost?

The stage is a startlingly bare one, with nothing more than a few sticks in the background, while musician Toshi Tsuchitori plays a lone drum which serves as soundscape throughout the entire play.

We are introduced to the old King Dhritarashtra (Sean O’Callaghan) and his wife (Carole Karemera), their son Yudhishthira (Jared McNeill), and the wise adviser Krishna (Ery Nzaramba).

Along the way, short fables are intertwined into the proceedings, telling of anecdotes involving a pigeon and falcon, a worm, a mongoose, and the like.

The fables are at times quirky and at times unsettling, adding great colour to the script.

The plot is essentially a very straightforward one, with the bare, stripped-down staging challenging the viewer to focus on the purity of the actors’ delivery of their lines.

Toshi Tsuchitori controls the pacing and tension in the play expertly with the beat of his drum, although I felt the extraordinarily bright “Exit” signs on each side of the Capitol Theatre stage served to diffuse the viewer’s visual focus considerably, thus taking away from the intense nature of the proceedings.

Perhaps the DBS Arts Centre – the spiritual home of the SRT – might have been a better choice of venue for this production, although it definitely would not have been able to accommodate as many people.

While director Brook coaxed out immense performances from the cast of four, Ery Nzaramba managed to stand out for his effervescence and versatility.

“Battlefield” is ultimately a sombre meditation on the atrocities of war and finding inner peace within one’s self in light of the sense of pain and loss.

In many ways it reminds me of “The Spirits Play” staged by The Finger Players just two weeks ago, Kuo Pao Kun’s take on the unbearable horrors of war and the profound impact it has on all the survivors.

“Battlefield” is a true testament to the power of theatre, and it is remarkable what magic can be achieved by just four actors, a solo musician, deft directing, and a powerful script.

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