100-year epic of good vs evil is still current

Red Oleander (above) by famed Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is performed as an audio play featuring the signature style of director Bratati Bandyopadhyay.
Red Oleander (above) by famed Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is performed as an audio play featuring the signature style of director Bratati Bandyopadhyay.PHOTO: TAGORE SOCIETY SINGAPORE
Red Oleander by famed Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is performed as an audio play featuring the signature style of director Bratati Bandyopadhyay (above).
Red Oleander by famed Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is performed as an audio play featuring the signature style of director Bratati Bandyopadhyay (above).PHOTO: TAGORE SOCIETY SINGAPORE

Red Oleander by famed Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is considered to be one of the most difficult theatre pieces to stage.

The philosophical drama, written by Tagore in 1923, was staged only once in his lifetime.

It tells the symbolic tale of good versus evil in the form of the virgin Nandini, a representation of beauty and humanity, and a greedy, money-hungry king, who treats his men like machines whose purpose is to make him richer.

Director Bratati Bandyopadhyay, who hails from Calcutta, India, calls the "abstract and symbolic" story of conflict "not everybody's play".

She says: "The main challenge is to make it reach people, so that the ideas are conveyed to them."

  • BOOK IT /RED OLEANDER

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, The National Library, 100 Victoria Street, Level 5

    WHEN: Sunday, 7pm

    ADMISSION: $20. $30, $50

    INFO: For tickets, call 9345-6915

The 54-year-old is renowned internationally for Bengali recitation, a popular artform that involves the recitation of poems and literary works. She has more than 50 albums to her name and is presenting Red Oleander essentially as an audio play.

It features her signature style which blends elocution, choreography, live music and stagecraft.

Fresh from a run in Calcutta, where it played to packed houses, Red Oleander will be staged in Singapore this Sunday at the Drama Centre Theatre.

The show, which is 1 hour 50 min long, is presented by the Tagore Society Singapore and supported by the Bengali Association Singapore.

Tickets cost $20 to $50.

It will be performed in Bengali. A brochure with an English summary of the show will be provided for non-Bengali speakers.

Red Oleander involves a cast of 12 from Calcutta, including Bandyopadhyay, alongside five dancers and five actors from Singapore.

She will play Nandini and Indian actor Debesh Roy Chowdhury will play the king.

The choreographer and principal dancer is Madhuboni Chatterjee, a Bharatanatyam dancer. Bharatanatyam is an Indian classical dance originating from Tamil Nadu.

Ms Dolly Davenport, creative director of Tagore Society Singapore, says that Red Oleander is considered an epic to Indian audiences. She says: "If one follows the dialogue of this drama, each and every line will remind us what a great philosopher Tagore was."

She adds that the story remains relevant today.

At one point, the characters cannot decide whether they should go back to their homeland, reflecting the current-day concerns faced by immigrants and expatriates.

"Such contemporary explanations written about 100 years back is amazing. While watching this, today's audience will be able to connect with it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline '100-year epic of good vs evil is still current'. Print Edition | Subscribe