Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer
M AHARANI'S MISERY, currently being staged at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies, Mona, is the stage adaptation of historian Verene Shepherd's book of the same title.
The play has several elements that make it a well-conceived, imaginatively executed and well produced play. The only thing missing is a dramatic core.
Directed by Brian Heap, the play is the 2006 University Players production. It details the trial following the death of an Indian indentured labourer Maharani, on her journey between India and colonial Guyana.
The story explores the politics involved in storytelling as it goes through the tales that made up the court case following Maharani's death.
GOOD LIGHTING, COSTUMES
The play is reasonably short, running for less than two hours, and was originally staged as a part of the university course, Twentieth-Century Theatre.
The production involves an interesting story and makes great use of lighting (designed by Nadia Roxburgh), choreography (Jermaine Rowe, Peter Parkinson and Nadia Khan) and good performances.
As an experimental piece of theatre, Maharani is really quite successful and it benefits greatly from Heap's conceptions.
Props and costuming are largely minimal, but well used to allow the characters and the setting to remain fluid.
Additionally, the inclusion of Shiva (played by Peter Parkinson) adds to the piece's cultural richness.
Shiva is indeed well-played by Parkinson, whose movement has matured and grown more graceful and controlled. The cast is generally good and Nadia Khan is particularly engaging.
What is missing, unfortunately, is a true sense of Maharani's misery.
The play is based on historical documentation, and it retains the feel of a historical document. Drama can be, and often is, based on history, but history and drama are very different animals.
If one focuses on the facts and the politics which influence particular events and actions, you explore history. However, when you unravel the human involvement, exposing motives, prejudices, fears, pretensions and desires you create drama.
Simply put, drama rests on the archaeology of emotions. So, as an exploration of history and politics, Maharani's Misery is also quite successful.
NOT FULLY EXPLORED
The play points to the power structure that played into eroding Maharani's voice.
It also makes passing jabs at sexual politics though this element is not fully explored, resting on an occasionally tossed line from one of the actresses.
So, though Maharani's Misery exposes an interesting historical and political discussion, it fails to fully explore the drama involved there.