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Open Space Theatre's And Then There Were None premieres at Shilpakala

  • Published at 09:48 pm July 26th, 2019
The set for Open Space Theatre's 'And Then There Were None'
The expansive and grandiose set for And Then There Were None will remain long in the memory of the audience | Mahjabeen Chowdhury

The set and lighting, designed by Ashiq Rahman Leeon, was grandiose, as the setting for And Then There Were None is a mansion on a remote island. To give some sense of the massive set design, there was a balcony, a bar, a fireplace, a terrace opening out to an implied ocean, four distinct seating areas, and six entries and exits to the stage. Every area was lit with distinguishable lighting, and if any characters stepped on the terrace to look at the ocean, then the music played the sound of waves crashing on a beach

Massively popular theatre troupe Open Space Theatre is back to wowing the thespians of the country, as they successfully premiered their adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery And Then There Were None, at the National Theatre Hall of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on Thursday evening. 

Open Space Theatre first grabbed the entertainment headlines with their successful adaptation of Reginald Rose's hit drama 12 Angry Men, which premiered on May 18, 2017. Most notably it was revealed after that premiere, that most of the actors were performing on stage for the first time, aside from the director M Arifur Rahman, who also acts in the play. Furthermore, Open Space keeps a signup sheet outside of the theatre for those members of the audience who would be interested in acting, so they may join the theatre troupe and be seen in their next production.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None was no different, and the first sign that something special was going to happen were the long queues in front of the entrance to Shilpakala’s National Theatre Hall. 

The set and lighting, designed by Ashiq Rahman Leeon, was grandiose, as the setting for And Then There Were None is a mansion on a remote island. To give some sense of the massive set design, there was a balcony, a bar, a fireplace, a terrace opening out to an implied ocean, four distinct seating areas, and six entries and exits to the stage. Every area was lit with distinguishable lighting, and if any characters stepped on the terrace to look at the ocean, then the music played the sound of waves crashing on a beach.

The music for the play perfectly captured the collective mood of the characters in their scenes, and the synchronicity between the sound and the action on stage was truly remarkable. It never felt like that majority of the actors on stage were performing live for the first time in their lives, as was revealed by the director following this premiere as well.

The short summary of the plot is as such that 10 guests arrive at a remote island mansion, among which seven are guests, and three are newly-hired employees of a couple UN Owens. They all reveal that they arrived at the mansion to join a party, to be hosted by the Owens. However, the party soon takes a mysterious and dark turn when an ominous record on the gramophone accuses each of the attendees of murder, of someone they knew in their past. Soon after one of the guests drops dead to the shock and dismay of all who were present.

Open Space Theatre's comments

In response to why Open Space chose this murder mystery for adaptation, the director M Arifur Rahman told Dhaka Tribune Showtime: "The thought process was very simple. What all of us at Open Space did is that we mulled over various different scripts, crises and story plots for the last two years. A few months back I was on a bus to Himachal Pradesh, and then there was this moment, in which I felt this is the one we should go with. I called Mahjabeen over phone immediately and she also agreed. 

"It is a beautiful script, and I think there are very few such as this one, which has so many technical challenges. After the reception from the audience in our very first play, we felt that we should take this kind of challenge," Arif added.

In regards to doing all three tasks of translating, directing and acting Arif told Showtime: "I did not find it challenging at all. I feel that the translation should be done by an actor or a director always. As an actor while reading the script, I can imagine what the equivalent dialogue would be in my own mother tongue. 

"In regards to direction, there are many different types of direction in theatre. The kind of direction I prefer and employ, is one where everyone rehearses every character in the play. All the actors have memorized each of the characters in the play; it is not just me. So each performer gets to try out different roles and develop versatility in their acting skills," Arif added.

Arif also revealed to Showtime that "there are three experienced actors from 12 Angry Men and the rest have appeared live on such a huge stage in front of an audience for the first time in their lives." 

Furthermore Arif added: "The idea behind Open Space Theatre is to ensure that whoever shows commitment towards acting, is given that platform. We are very serious about our work."

Mahjabeen Chowdhury, the co-owner of Open Space Theatre along with M Arifur Rahman, told Showtime: "Hopefully, we will stage the next show in September. It is really hard to get a theatre hall free for one day, let alone two. This one takes two days, as in the first day we put the set together, and in the next one the show happens."

In response, to whether there were any apprehension about adapting a foreign script for Bangladeshi audience, Mahjabeen said: "No, we did not think that we were showing something alien to people. We did not present the characters verbatim as it was written on the script. In the original script the characters are much more somber and sophisticated, yet, in the production you saw the characters were loud, intimate and very expressive. So our actors portrayed the characters as if they were passionate Bangladeshis in the context given by the script.

 "If we had followed the diction and actions of the script to the letter, it would have caused distance between the audience and actors. We did the same for 12 Angry Men. The script showed an American legal procedure, but the actors portrayed the characters as if they were Bangladeshis."