An example of a good play wronged.
While I couldn’t go for Crossings (by Vikram Iyengar), I was able to catch the second and the ‘Established’ play for the day at Sri Ram Center – Witness for Prosecution, at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META). I arrived (unusually) 10 minutes late at 7pm (because I’d been stuck in a rather unnecessarily long, but necessary meeting), and walked to the front row of the balcony to sit. The act was set in a living room of sorts, with make-believe walls and bookshelves, and a rather awkward opening carved up as the entrance to the living room. The stage was bathed in yellow light, and three characters, dressed formally, were seated around a table.
While the name of the play seemed familiar, I couldn’t remember what it was all about. I thought it was written by Jeffery Archer, though someone corrected me during the intermission and told me that it’s based on an Agatha Christie story. By then I’d remembered the story, but kept mum about it till the end. I just Wiki’ed and learnt why the play reminded me of Jeffery Archer:
Archer was put on trial for perjury and perverting the course of justice in December 2000. A few days before the beginning of the perjury trial, Archer began performing in the star role in a courtroom play (which he also wrote) called The Accused. The play was staged at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket and concerns the court trial of an alleged murderer from beginning to end. While its plot appeared to have been largely borrowed from a 1950s film, Witness for the Prosecution (based on a novel by Agatha Christie), the play used the innovation of assigning the role of jury in the trial to the audience, with theatre-goers voting on whether Archer’s character was innocent or guilty at the end of each night’s performance. Archer would attend his real trial during the day and be judged in his fictional trial at the theatre in the evening.
(Spoiler ahead, incidentally)
What I didn’t like about the play was the ending. If I remember correctly, in the Agatha Christie version, the play ends with the startling revelation that the wife had tricked the court into believing that she had lied about her husband being guilty. No one would believe an honest wife proclaiming the innocence of her husband, so she acted as a vindictive wife trying to implicate him wrongly. Once she is conveniently found out, the find him ‘not guilty’. Now, the first time one reads about it, it’s a damn good plot. That’s quite an innovative twist in the tale (and not a first from Christie), and is a powerful ending in itself.
The Indian adaptation fails is in providing a further couple of twists, and two more possible endings which completely spoilted it for me. The first addition was palpable: after the wife declares her sacrifice for her husband, declaring that she’s willing to go to jail for perjury to save his skin, a pretty young thing runs across the room and hugs the husband. He haughtily declares that now he’s got all that he wanted – lots of money, willed to him by the woman he killed, and a young girl whom he can go on a cruise with. Fairly believable, and palpable twist. It could have ended here with a sobbing wife.
But no, we have to provide closure. So the wife picks up a large kitchen knife from the evidence (exhibit two, I think), and stabs him to death. She then walks over to the witness stand, and a single light focuses on her as she declares a final memorable quote that I didn’t care to remember. I found this bit of melodrama irritating, and unnecessary. Even my friend, who didn’t know the story, felt that the play could have ended at the first twist.
On the whole, the acting was excellent, though one was left confused about whether the wife was from Germany or Russia (strange accent). The mysterious woman with who handed the crucial letters to the defence had an accent that was difficult to understand. Yes, it is a british play, but it isn’t easy for some of us Indians to understand a not-so-authentic Brit accent spoken fast. Attendance was remarkably poor and even though cellphones rang during the performance, the actors seemed unperturbed. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go for the rest of the three days. Afternoons are out, so I’ve got lots of free passes to give away. Or just walk in, since attendance is so poor. Details here.