Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Friday, October 29, 2010
Thank you, everyone, for your praise, feedback and critique. We're extremely proud to have been the first team to have attempted horror as a genre onstage, and through your feedback, we tried to improve each day. =) Your support for this project [all of you who paid for tickets] has ensured that we have managed to collect more than Rs. 100,000 in donation for the flood-afflicted.
To my team: thank you for your faith and your perseverance. And for believing in this project and diving headfirst into it while knowing the risks. Let Me In is as much your triumph as it is mine.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Let Me In: Islamabad's empty roads just got a little more scary at night
For many denizens of Islamabad, the city's theatre scene is one of the few grander creative outlets on show. Though largely relegated to comedies, there is the occasional attempt at something more cerebral (Freedom Bound, The Good Doctor, The Pillowman). Yet, after being starved of worthwhile entertainment, it's hardly surprising that Islamabad fails to warm up - intellectually and financially - to something other than instant gratification in the form of slapstick comedy.
Let Me In, produced by the Living Picture Productions (at whose helm is veteran thespian, director and writer Osman Khalid Butt), then, is Osman's second swipe at trying to bring more graft and culture to Islamabad. Broadly advertised as a horror spectacle, there is nevertheless enough social commentary underpinning the writing to keep everyone interested.
Horror as a genre is incredibly convoluted as it is - trying to exercise it on stage must make it considerably difficult. Yet, Let Me In started off on the right foot, as an ominous rendition of 'Twinkle Little Star' pervaded the hall. Throughout the play, that general vibe of something macabre peeking at you from just around the corner was present. A vital component of any play that intends to disarm and distress is that onerous, macabre vibe - Let Me In had that vibe down to a tee and in droves. Regardless of how many characters were shuffling on stage (on a few occasions it did seem to go overboard), there was always a greater sense of foreboding present in the acting, the lighting and the sound. On quite a few occasions, the humour too seemed suitably strained; if you're afraid of an all-enveloping mist, you're hardly going to be Bill Hicks incarnate.
Conversely, on the opening night, it seemed as if the director could have gone for a few effective, if cheap, scares. In one instance - which surprisingly still managed to alarm the audience - one of the characters alerts everyone to a potential scare, thus perhaps defeating the purpose of that little movement as there was no surprise. However, such issues have largely been rectified as the shows have progressed.
Yet if there were any deficiencies in the writing, the rest of the aspects of the production more than made up for it. The acting often bordered on the sublime, with everyone paying their dues and then some. On quite a few occasions one was left stunned after the realization dawned that most of the cast and crew of this production were, and are, amateurs. Khawaja Eesa Salim's stoic performance as David Drayton provided the consistency around which the ensemble cast weaved their craft. Rubya Chaudhry's (Stephanie Drayton) cameo was exquisite, as her sinister nature meandered around the stage. Ahmed Ali (Wayne O'Shea) and Sundus Jamil (Sally Jean Hayes) had wonderful chemistry and provided a worthwhile contextual humanization of a play aimed at dealing with the inhumane. Mustafa Ali Khan (Ollie) & Waqas Sheikh (Bud) played their characters wonderfully and were a welcome detachment from the somber nature of the play in general. Introductory cameos from Alina Khan (the woman), Uzair Jaswal (Norm), Azam Ali Noon and Qazi Jabbar Naeem were all wonderfully executed as neither of them overstayed their welcome. Their acting was succinct , never deviating from their roles as secondary characters. However, it was Sofia Wanchoo Mir (Mrs Carmody) who undoubtedly stole the show. A demagogue and fundo, she was the one who kept the play's socio-political underpinnings intact, while simultaneously providing enough of a lesson in acting to have the audience shuddering with every twist of her expression. Her character might not have been granted a prosthetic face, but the mask she donned and used successfully was just as frightening as any creature from any vision of hell.
But it's not just the actors who make a play work. Despite a few missteps (the gun sounds were rather emasculatory) the sound was spot on and helped accentuate the play's suspense. The lighting was invariably going to be vital for a play of this nature - and Aashir Irfan's control over the board helped ensure that the atmosphere was perfectly set for every scene. The set too was brilliant (constructed by Romain and visualized by Michelle Tania Butt) and provided the relevant claustrophobia for the play. A good set can really make a play, and the seven-eleven setting helped ensure the director's vision of creating that little bit of terrified chaos. Noted in Islamabad's circles, Osman Khalid Butt is often sought after as an actor or a director, leaving little time for him to focus on his own vision. In Let Me In, it seems as if his desire to pay homage to Stephen King comes full circle, as he successfully manages to coerce wonderful performances out of his actors while keeping true to his script. Last but not least, considerable credit must go to the use of prosthetic makeup for the creatures. It's not often that prosthetics are used in Pakistan at all (for film or theatre), and it was a bold step (financially and creatively) to employ them in Let Me In. However, undoubtedly, the risk reaped considerable rewards as the prosthetic clad actors (Haris Shahbaz, Junaid Khan & Zainab Zaman Khan Afridi) received rapturous applause (or gasps) whenever they appeared on stage. Crawling and crouching, hissing and swiping, they added a whole new level of unease into the play.
Horror is a hard trick to pull - in that there is often nothing more to it than cheap scares and gore. True horror is often psychological with enough reality holding it down. Osman Khalid Butt's writing and his cast and crew realize that, which is why despite the preponderance of the supernatural, the greatest scares came from a very human character. To call Let Me In horror would in essence be a disservice; it is greater than just horror.
That alone makes the play worth a watch. Yet, if you feel you aren't in the mood for anything cerebral, Let Me In provides a plethora of scares and hilarity (sometimes unintended!) which will ensure that your 110 minutes aren't a waste. It is, regardless of its ambition, still an entertaining piece of theatre. If that isn't enough, a significant part of the play's profits go to flood relief.
Let Me In runs till October 28, and you genuinely couldn't do better than grabbing yourself a seat at the PNCA to take in this exceedingly wonderful play - regardless of where your affinities lie.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Everyday characters, small town archetypes the characters of Let Me In are regular no-bodies faced with traumatic interconnected relationships and tough decisions in order to survive. Each character has an introductory build up, leading to their character progression, ultimately transforming them to a nuclear moment.
The stage direction is naturalistic for the space might be tightly casted but is constantly moving and had an intrinsic rhythm through out the duration of the play. The characters shop, gossip, romance, preach and eventually have their fates decided all in that same setting. Arming a familiar location such as a grocery store with story telling, grand narratives, folklore and an insight into the human condition is an unconventional theatrical stance for the Islamabad theater scene. Apart from the scene changes where regular blackouts are used the play incorporates moments of pause, the stage literally blinks creating a different pace, these transitory elements not only allow for a psychological insight into the characters but contrasts the aggressive gruesome out bursts with a breath of serenity. Stage-ques merging with one another allowed fight scenes to match the sounds created by the crashing and throwing of each other on set. The set was presented as another central character among the cast. It is evident that the pre-production and designing of lights, sound, music and over all stage direction work was an integral part of Let Me In. The characters are inseparable, erratic and yet balanced with all of these elements of the play.
As a child and now having been trained in Lighting design, I shiver with excitement for radioactive coloured lighting, usually found on the covers of “make your own ending” horror story books. Let Me In makes use of such familiar horror iconography to ground itself in an age long legacy of such story telling. For me the nuclear moment of the play had to be Butt’s closing scene, his stage presence showed not only Butt in his true element but was reminiscent of the quintessential grand evil we sink our horror hungry teeth into.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
"I have to give credit to Islamabad for keeping theater alive. I myself love seeing interesting concepts being executed onstage. And from what I have seen, this play has been one of the best in terms of direction and not to mention acting as well. There was perfection in every department. Especially the lighting and the music - so beautifully placed that I felt as though I was watching a thriller at a cinema. Great going, team. Our country needs people like you to revive the focus on entertainment in this country. Good luck."
Friday, October 22, 2010
A number of people like myself, who run a mile at the word "horror", went to see the play and enjoyed it thoroughly (Bushra Hassan for example, refer to her blog for her review). For those who like effects, fight scenes and gore, it was there. For those who don't, there was plenty of psychological suspense to make you sit on the edge of your seat. I enjoyed that the most - the questions going through my mind, almost not wanting to know what was going on because the torture of guessing at it was kind of fun. What exactly was the mist? Who was out there? Even though you saw it in front of your eyes, what was it?
The writing was very tight, and the timing and combination of light, comedic moments with the suspense and tension made the experience an emotional roller-coaster. The length was just perfect, a neat 1 hour 40 minutes, with no lagging or time for your mind to wander once the suspense was in motion.
With all the conspiracy theories that exist in the world today, and the talk of reptilians, extraterrestrials, "good vs. evil" (if you saw "The Arrivals", you'll know what I mean), the play felt very current to me. I felt it hit a nerve in today's society which many in the younger generation are aware of and can appreciate. Also, it hit a very sore socio-political nerve which exists in Pakistan today. For audience members like myself, who enjoy double-meanings, I loved the debates regarding dualities in religion. The tension between Mrs. Carmody and Sally was thoroughly entertaining. When things cannot be said upfront, the best kind of theater is the one that shines a very subversive mirror on something right in front of our faces without overtly pointing it out. If you, too, as a Pakistani feel that your nation is being taken over by a blinding and dangerous mist, you will no doubt enjoy the double-entendres in the play.
Another ground-breaking aspect of this production was the make-up used, the prosthetic make-up to be specific. My hat's off to Jibran Khan for pulling off such intricate and difficult make-up. The creatures were fantastic, and I did not find them comedic at all. If I came across that face to face, the last thing I'd do is laugh! Even up-close, when I went to meet Zainab Zaman after the play (whom I didn't recognize at all at first, and then was wondering "Is it her? Or isn't it?" throughout the play), the prosthetics were beyond impressive and creepy as can be. (Little-known fact: the prosthetics you see are only about half of what were meant to be used, and these too were recovered with great difficulty. The other half are probably sitting in some customs officer's house at the moment, God only knows to what end. Now you know what the joys of production are all about!)
The set was just the right side of minimalist, highly functional with attention to detail with the products on display - nothing too distracting. The soundtrack was chilling (and thanks, Osman, I can never sing "Twinkle Little Star" to my daughter again...sigh). The lighting was very clever, and I enjoyed the use of sectioned lighting to accent different parts of the action and highlight characters when necessary. The lightning was my favorite part, and I congratulate Aashir Irfan on spot-on execution of both concept and cues.
And, of course, the ACTING. This was ensemble acting at its very best. When they shone, they really shone. They connected with each other, supported one another, and worked as a team. No upstaging, no egos. For the first time, there were no "weak links", which is extremely difficult to achieve. I enjoyed everyone's acting immensely, especially in the core group. The usual suspects were their usual fantastic best - Saud, Ahmed, Sundus, Rubya, Mustafa, Waqas, Zainab, Eesa, Uzair, and of course, Osman. I'd like to, however, make special note of two newcomers (so-to-speak) who absolutely rocked it for me - Sofia Wanchoo Mir as Bible-toting zealot with Joan of Arc complex Mrs. Carmody, and Fareeha Raza as young Elizabeth (Fareeha herself is barely a teenager!). Kudos to you, ladies, for not only standing your own with a sophomore cast, but making your own mark. Bravo.
All in all, "Let Me In" is the perfect precursor to Halloween, and a very entertaining way to spend a hundred minutes. If you love horror, this will be a rare treat to witness live on stage in Pakistan. If you know, for a fact, that you cannot, under any circumstances stomach any kind of gore or emotional stress, then do the actors and yourself a favor, stay home, wear your coziest jammies, and watch reruns on Star World. And if you don't like horror, but enjoy a good play, and are feeling adventurous, do NOT give this one a miss. These guys will win you over, if you let them in.