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Open Space Theatre's And Then There Were None returns to stage

  • Published at 09:52 pm September 14th, 2019
Open Space Theatre's And Then There Were None
Open Space Theatre's expansive set for And Then There Were None will return to National Theatre Hall of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on September 23 | Courtesy

Open Space Theatre first came to limelight with the successful staging of Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men in 2017. After 16 shows of 12 Angry Men, the group returned to stage with the classic murder mystery thriller And Then There Were None, which premiered on July 25

The second show of the adaptation of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, by the massively popular theatre troupe Open Space Theatre, will be staged on September 23 at National Theatre Hall, in Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.

Open Space Theatre first came to limelight with the successful staging of Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men in 2017. After 16 shows of 12 Angry Men, the group returned to stage with the classic murder mystery thriller And Then There Were None, which premiered on July 25. 

In response to whether the troupe specifically chooses foreign scripts, founder and chief organizer of Open Space Theatre Mahjabeen Chowdhury told the Dhaka Tribune Showtime: "It’s nothing planned. We don’t have any intention of choosing only foreign stories or producing adaptations. We just enjoy telling stories. We felt like doing 12 Angry Men at that time, and now we felt it was right to do And Then There Were None. Script selection is instinctive. If we enjoy reading a script, and our team has enough learning opportunities in the script, we choose it. Both scripts are very 'connecting,' and engaging for the audience. The plotlines would be interesting to anyone in the world." 

Regarding the challenges of staging And Then There Were None Mahjabeen said: "It was not that difficult initially. While translating, M Arifur Rahman made sure that the whole script is written in Bangla, in such a way that our audience from this generation can understand. Words have been simplified. Some English words are used that may be culture specific. For example, we used words like, ‘swan song’- the final performance or activity of a person's career; and ‘red herring’- something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question. These words may not be familiar to our audience, but we have tried to establish the meaning through our performance."

Acquiring the rights

As for acquiring the rights of And Then There Were None Mahjabeen said: "We wanted to protect our intellectual property, our translation of And Then There Were None, from being copied. So, at first we reached out via email, to the publisher of the play, then to Agatha Christie Limited (ACL), for the license to translate, and stage shows of their approved script. 

"It didn’t feel right to stage a writer’s script without giving her due credit, and financial acknowledgement. After we sent the first email, they checked out our online presence, and were impressed with how we presented 12 Angry Men. After that, we got positive response from them. They were very helpful with every step of the licensing process. They analyzed our financial situation, and asked for a reasonable fee per show, which we agreed to pay at the end of each year. They have given us license to stage 15 shows within the next 2 years. If we can arrange more shows, they will renew the contract accordingly. 

"Meanwhile, they have sent us Agatha Christie’s signature, and the company logo, which we are allowed to use in all promotional materials, following the conditions that are stated in our contract.They were very interested in Bangladeshi theatre practices, and were awestruck that for the first time, a theatre group from Bangladesh has approached them about licensing.They told us that in the past, they have seen many adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work in Bollywood, and South Asian region, but none of them gave the writer her due credit. 

"We recently sent them pictures of the show. They loved the set, and wanted to know when we will have the next show. We are hoping some of their representatives will visit Dhaka to see the next show. They are very appreciative of our work, and they are with us in this production’s journey all the way," Mahjabeen added.

Mahjabeen also informed that Open Space Theatre had to crosscheck all designs of leaflets, tickets, brochures, invitation cards, and banners with ACL. But since Facebook posts are more of a spontaneous promotional tool, ACL does not check them as often. However, ACL did visit the Facebook page of Open Space Theatre, and were very prompt in their communications. Replies were always given within a day.

Juggling professional and personal lives

One of the key aspects of Open Space Theatre is their practice of drawing actors for their theatre troupe from within the audience. After each staging of 12 Angry Men Open Space Theatre had a signup sheet outside the hall, so that the audience members may sign up to audition for their next production. Only four actors in the cast of And Then There Were None are experienced, and the rest are appearing on stage, in front of a live audience, for the second time in their lives; the second show of the adaptation on September 23. 

In answer to how the actors juggle professional and personal lives, as well as rehearse for the play, Mahjabeen said: "We are doing theatre because it is our passion. But we all are trying to make it our profession. We haven’t reached our goal yet, but we are trying. It is extremely difficult, but we never think of giving up. Because, we know this is what we have to do. This is all we want to do. 

"Our daily rehearsal hours are from 7pm to 11pm, sometimes we extend till 12pm if anyone is late in traffic. We dream of a time when we can rehearse all day, and have shows every night. The way we are working right now, may not give us enough rehearsal hours, but it has its positive side. 

"When you have challenges, you can’t get comfortable. You have to do extraordinary things to cope with the time shortage. The team becomes more interesting under pressure, and the craving for doing a better performance with each show keeps growing. Our actors become better at handling challenges because they have to manage their jobs alongside rehearsals.

"One of our performers couldn’t manage time during evenings, so we had to rehearse all night before the show, under the open sky on our roof. The reason we chose the roof for rehearsal was that it gave us the ‘island’ feel that is prominent in the script. We also arranged lights to create the stage atmosphere at rehearsals. 

"Working in theatre, sometimes you get very little rest, and there are sleepless nights. But that constant effort makes it very special. We struggle because we don’t yet have the comfortable working schedule for actors, but all these challenges make us hungrier to do a better job," director of the play, M Arifur Rahman added.

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