The death of Abhimanyu is arguably one of the most harrowing losses faced in the entire Mahabharatha epic. Killed in battle at the age of 16, by a group of men, many of whom were known to him, the story is an upsetting and disturbing tale of a young life lost in battle.
But the story can also be read in much broader terms, as a metaphor for a much wider social issue, namely the involvement of children in military combat across the globe.
Professional storyteller, Craig Jenkins (of Vayu Naidu Company, UK) has been working with a group of professionals at the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, Tamil Nadu, to re-imagine the Abhimanyu story as a contemporary piece of theatre, exploring the plight of child soldiers in the world today.
Inspired by Mr.P.Rajagopal’s all night Kattaikkuttu performance ‘Abhimanyu’, Craig worked with a group of seven graduate students to create a performance that would allow the school, and outside audience members, to understand the psychological and emotional struggles of children fighting in wars today.
The first assignment for the group was to research the facts, figures and most importantly the stories of the children involved in war, and to prepare a 45 minute presentation to share with the rest of the school. The group researched heavily and underwent a number of creative exercises to access their own emotional connections to the social issue. These included: Playback theatre, group discussionsand creative writing of diary entries and writing letters to god.
The piece really came to life during an all-night rehearsal which ran from 10:00pm-6:00am in the morning. The group was instructed to draw on all of their research and create a 60 minute piece of theatre that explores the stories of seven children forced to fight in a war that they don’t understand.
The group were also given the additional theme of ‘Shadows’ and were encouraged to experiment with different lighting effects and ways of making the performance more of an ‘experience for the audience’.
The group worked solidly throughout the night (inspired by a collective unity and plenty of coffee, energy drinks and biscuits) and debuted their piece to an eager audience as the sun rose in the morning.
The outcome was a 90 minute tour-de-force of emotion that literally dragged the audience kicking and screaming into the terrifying world of child soldiers. From the moment the audience arrived they were immediately instructed to line up outside, where they were searched and interrogated by two older members of the child military group.From all sides, cast members were thrown into the line up, where they gripped the arms of audience members and pleaded with eyes full of fear: ‘Please don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die’.
Inside the room, doors were locked and windows were blackened. The audience were forced into the tight and cramped space which was decorated with broken furniture, guns and bloodied, soiled pieces of material. For the next one and a half hours, the audience watched as the children were beaten, abused and forced to fight and even murder other members of the group. All in the name of ‘war’.
In one particularly harrowing scene, one of the soldiers awakes at night crying that he misses his mum. As his sobs fill the camp, another young soldier cradles him in his arms and rocks him back to sleep. The two boys make a promise that night that they will be there for each other forever and ‘will never leave’. In the following scene, one of the boys tries to escape the camp, and as the audience are forced back outside, they watch as in the distance, he is shot down dead.
Another innocent life lost.
All in the name of ‘war’.
Storyteller and theatre maker, Craig Jenkins has always been interested in exploring how the Indian epics can speak of the world today. He says: ‘The Ramayana and the Mahabharatha are so rich with contemporary issues and social messages that they demand to be re-visited and re-told. Working with the Kattaikkuttu Apprentices on the Shadows project, showed me once again, the power of applying these traditional tales to the here, the now and the today. We should never forget how strongly the past speaks of the present and how much it shows us about the struggles of the future if we don’t educate ourselves and others, and and try to initiate change’.
Devised and Directed:
Craig Jenkins (Vayu Naidu Company,UK)
Cast and Assistant Directors:
A.Dillibabu, J.Loganathan, K.Radhakrishnan, M.Duraisamy, M.Greenkumar, P.Moorthy and P.Thilagavathi.
-- Craig Jenkins is a professional theatre person and storyteller who works with the Vayu naidu Co. UK. He recently conducted a storytelling workshop for Open Space in Pune on the theme of 'rakshasas'...