Thursday, January 29, 2009

Theatre time

It is a rather strange amalgam that can be found within the grounds of the Government Museum Complex at Egmore. Of course, there is good reason to place the Art Gallery and the Museum together. But why would anyone want to throw a library into the mix? And having done that, to further spice it up by having a theatre included? Surely, there are good answers to these; in the meantime, we will take another look at a building that despite not being the first theatre in Chennai, is the city's premier stage today.

The Museum Theatre was inaugurated in 1896, but has its roots in the late 18th century Public Assembly Rooms which were functioning on the same site as far back as 1789. Theatrical entertainment in those days were on the lines of Greek plays; tragedies, possibly not unlike the family tear-jerker TV soaps of today. By 1830, however, the Rooms were hardly used and the Government stepped in to purchase them, in order to house the Collector's cutcherry (no, it has nothing to do with dicing fruit, but indicates a concert!). With a few additions, that building grew into the Museum Theatre of today.

Watching a play here is quite an experience. Firstly, one needs to get in quickly or risk being condemned to the side - wing - seats from where the stage can be viewed only at a 70-degree angle. Of course, the option of buying pricier tickets and taking one's place in the rectangle just in front of the stage is always open. Another reason for leaping and charging into the theatre (apart from one's interest in drama) is that the seats are not numbered, so it is first-come-first-served. The acoustics are excellent and the stage is well proportioned and provided for; it is said that the roof over the stage has grooves through which cannonballs were rolled to simulate the effect of thunder - that must have shaken the audience in their seats! Together with the ambience, one will leave with the senses sated.

The experience does not end there, if one was watching the last show of the day. As the audience comes out, it notices that the lights all over the museum complex are switched off; the museum security has locked the complex down for the night and it is now an eerie challenge to get to the vehicle and find that solitary gate through which the outside world can be accessed!

1 comment:

Paul Mathew said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the notes on Kalkshetra Koothambalam and the Museum Theatre. Thanks Shantaram. You're doing something of immense value. Bring out the entire work so far as a book. Lots of people would love to read it.