A New Play Comes to Islamabad

By Sonya Rehman

Last month, sitting in a house in Islamabad, four actors were two weeks into rehearsals for their play, ‘God of Carnage’ – an intense, albeit, comedic play written by the French playwright, Yasmina Reza.

The play, performed in London in 2008 – starred Ralph Fiennes, while Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini (among others) performed the play on Broadway in 2009. In 2011, Director Roman Polanski adapted the play for film, which featured Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet as the female leads.

Revolving around two couples, the play is a train wreck of emotion and drama which is rather hilarious and amusing. Shedding light on human behaviour that is at best, comical and contradictory, the story starts out slowly – perhaps too slowly, dragging its feet till it begins streaking down the road, hollering at the top of its lungs.

Junaid Malik, a filmmaker based in Islamabad who is directing the local production, earlier directed ‘Art,’ Yasmina Reza’s best-known play. Malik believes that a good play, if “played out well,” is bound to “draw its audience in.”

Junaid Malik

However, local theatre – targeted towards the upper middle strata of society – always tends to fare better when glitzy, Western musicals (with all the desi masala tossed in) are put up for audiences. Because, let’s face it, they are entertaining – primarily by way of sponsorship money pumped in to transform a drab stage into something glittery, shiny, and disco-y, along with elaborate costumes, props, and a paid team.

The actors rehearsing for the ‘God of Carnage’ in Islamabad.

“Yes, you do need an audience that has an expectation of being carried into the world of hyper-reality that we create in front of them,” agrees Malik, adding, “How you approach your audience in telling the story is eventually going to decide how successful you are at keeping them [the audience] seated till the curtain call.”

Actors Maha Khan and Malika Zafar rehearsing for the ‘God of Carnage’ in Islamabad.

Actor, Malika Zafar, part of Malik’s team, thinks that the theatre scene in Islamabad is “lacking,” and that those plays which are produced, remind her of “an averagely produced high school play at best.”

For Zafar, local theatre needs a desperate revival that needs to be done away with focusing on “how to entertain using gaudy sets, bad dialogue, over-dramatic stilted acting, song that is lip-synced and dance where the choreography is jarring to the sensibilities.”

Ali Rehman Khan rehearsing for the ‘God of Carnage’ in Islamabad.

However, actor, Uzair Khan, also part of Malik’s cast, disagrees. Khan believes that Islamabad’s theater scene has been nothing short of “vibrant” over the past few years. “When I returned [to Islamabad] from college abroad in 2007, I was pleasantly surprised to find a burgeoning theater scene that I could become a part of,” he says, “In the past, there was a trend to perform only musicals. I believe the implicit assumption was that a show with song and dance was the only way to please a crowd. Since then, a myriad of plays that break this mold have graced the stages of Islamabad. We have seen more originally written work and adaptations emerging.”

Whether or not the local theatre scene is stunted or not, the fact remains, there seems to be more and more activity on the local art and culture front.

 ‘God of Carnage’ will be staged in the capital, at the Islamabad Club from the 12th – 16th of September, 2012.

 The Friday Times

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