Metamorphoses of the Classic in Theatre

Issue #1 • 1536

The life of a classic text within environs it was created is important principle of the classic system. For the theatre, besides that, was very important to realize functions of old text within new socio – cultural environ. “Hamlet needs to be staged every ten years,” – stated Peter Brook.

Quickly growing receptivity of new forms coexisting with century old traditions more and more often promotes researches for new answers for an old question: How does “the imported” interact with the native and what kind of symbioses can occur at the result? To reveal sources and conflicting features in interaction of the West and East on the theatre stage is engrossing and useful task, which often gets intricate evaluation.

So, I am touching upon an important and interesting subject – a theme of oriental motifs in the staging of the Western dramaturgy in the modern Uzbek theatre. A number of plays which contain this problem in this or that form makes possible to say about the tendency. First of all, these are the plays “Mamura kampir” (“Old Woman Mamura”) after the play of French dramatist, J. Sarman “Mamure”, staged by B.Yuldashev in the Theatre of A. Khidoyatov and Gulistan Theatre, “Flying Doctor” of Molier staged by A. Salimov in the Theatre of Young Spectators, “Cain and Abel” of G. Byron staged by A. Khodjakuliev in the studio – theatre “Eski machit” as well as the plays at the Theatre of A.Khidoyatov – “King Lear” of W. Shakespeare staged by American producer D. Kaplan and “Electra” of Sophocles staged by F. Kasimov. In some cases the play is undergone of deep changes, in some – a translator and theatre change a place of events, names of personages and life realty, in the third cases – art director, artist or composer brings into the play typical elements of oriental culture.

At the end of the 20s – beginning of the 30s, in the pioneering period of Uzbek professional theatre was some experience in transformation, or “Uzbekization” and “adaptation” of the comedies of Gogol and Molier. So, in “Auditor” Khlestakov was on the stage wearing an Uzbek robe and tyubeteika and talked about Navoi; in “Marriage” all names of personages were translated into Uzbek. Local anecdotage was often introduced into the plays. This phenomenon was typical not only of Uzbekistan and could be explained by different levels of national theatres in that period. Opponents of such practice often were right criticizing low level of theatre and, at the same time, culture of audience. In Uzbekistan, after the play “Hamlet” in 1935 such revising had been forgotten for a long time.

Modern plays much extend this problem, introducing it in the field of comparative study. If previously just some cases of text revising happened, now we have a tendency both regarding a number of such facts and their properties. It’s enough to say about the fact that such plays amount a half of all translated plays having been staged in the Uzbek theatres for the last ten years.

Today it is wrong to evaluate these plays as primitive anachronism and as occasional element in the pioneering period of professional theatre. Now we are facing another problem: “Using of subjects and literature of one country in dramaturgy and theatre of another country is usual thing in history of the world theatre. The examples are numerous. The best works of Shakespeare took their roots in the Italian novel. Dramaturgy of classics revived ancient Greek myths. Russian vaudeville was often based on French subjects. In antique dramaturgy this phenomenon was called contamination and considered a separate field of art” (1, p.110).

There are many similar examples in the art of the 20th century. Among them are the play “Mahabharata” of the outstanding English producer Peter Brook, films of the greatest Japanese film maker Akira Kurasava upon Shakespeare’s motifs, Hollywood’s remakes of French films and etc.

Thus, speaking about oriental elements in the modern plays of the Western drama on the stage of the Uzbek theatre we should say not about differences in the development of national theatre cultures but, on the contrary, about integrity of the Uzbek theatre in the general cultural processes typical both of the Western and the Eastern art.

It was written a lot about the oriental trends in the Western art. This concerns the problem of influence of oriental theatre on the European stage art of G. Crag, Vs. Meyerhold, A. Tairov, P.Brook and art challenges of modern theatre producers. It is also known that many subjects and characters as integral part of the Western art were taken from the East. This is not only “Divine Comedy” of Dante but, what is especially interesting for us, all European “Robinson circle” going back from the Arab philosopher and writer Ibn Tufeil to the treatise of Ibn Sino.

In the East the interpretation of the same subject by different writers was usual thing and became a part of cultural tradition. The closest example is a legend about Sheih Sanan, which was staged in the theatres twice, in the studio – theatre “Eski machit” by F. Kasimov and then in the Youth Theatre by N. Abdurakhmanov. This legend came from the works of such famous masters of the medieval poetry as Attar, Djami and Navoy.

So the trend we said above normally lays within national cultural tradition and in the long history of cultural interactions between the East and West, the West and the East. Intentionally or unintentionally the translated works on the stage more or less are adapted to the mentality of spectators and psychological set of actors. Often the spectators have no guessing existence of any adaptation.

Often this phenomenon takes place in the case of close cultures. There are two examples: “Translator of A. Ostrovsky into English, D. Magarshak worked at the plays of the Russian dramatist “attentively looking at the English theatre”, as he said himself, and did everything possible to adapt the translation to the English actors and English spectators. The translations reserved author’s emotional background and, according to the critics, idioms so numerous in the plays of Ostrovsky got correct English equivalents”. In his own turn, the biggest English critic K. Tinen specified the film “Hamlet” of G. Kozintsev with starring of I. Smoktunovsky as “Russian” and “non-Shakespeare” “Hamlet” (3, p. 252 – 254).

In these cases “imported” and “native” contaminate without efforts and look natural thanks to many common features, if not related but close in their genetic codes. In any case, English Protestantism, Russian Orthodox Christianity and French Catholicism coexist within the common field of Christianity in spite of their contradictions.

When translated works come to the theatre, the stage becomes a place of meeting of different cultures and direct dialogue of different national mentalities . The question how much interesting and understandable this dialogue may be for spectators and what means of translation were used to make stage language accessible for both sides promoted mutual understanding. Searches for this understanding resulted in original stage solutions. The theatre producer D. Kaplan introduced oriental elements in the decorations of the play “King Lear” so accenting panhuman value of the play.

Atmosphere of “Electra” staged by F.Kasimov is rich of apprehensive signs: turned crescent direly sparkling on the copper disc – considered a bad sign in the East; sounding of classic Uzbek makoma transforming in the groan of Electra seems natural and harmonized with the power of the antique tragedy; dried branches of the tree covered with “bands of memory” also is a characteristic feature of eastern cemeteries. In the staging of the early farce of Molier “Flying Doctor”, O. Salimov used a method “theatre within theatre” and closed up French farce men and Uzbek maskarabozes.

The logic is obvious; both of them have a conditional and spontaneous character of the folk theatre, which fed the art of Molier. However, the specific and distinctive features caused by the place and time of the action are equally obvious – on the stage we can see not Paris of the 17th century but Turkistan at the beginning of the 20th century. Molier himself, sitting in a comfortable armchair in the corner of the stage, is looking on all metamorphoses with curiosity. At the final both spectators and actors will applaud him…

The parable about Cain and Abel narrating on the first murder on the earth is equally known in the Christian and Islamic worlds. The producer A.Khodjakuli and dramatist G.Dongatarov interpret the drama of an Englishman, Byron in accordance with the oriental legend. The East specifies itself by a sad melody – the musician playing the violin, walking around the stage, holds it like ghidjak as well as by decorative details (artists Sh.Abdumalikov and M.Soshina): khurdjin, bent knife, colourful tyubeteikas, fine tattoo on women’s shoulders, which are not just a switch on modern exotic but a sign of recent paganism; by the names changed in the eastern manner – Cain – Kobil, Abel – Khobil, Eva – Havva, Lucifer – Elpek… These outer attributes are important in this case, but the main thing is that a conflict and psychological reactions of the characters from the drama of Byron are being interpreted in the play within the frames of oriental,even Muslim, mentality…

Thus, the recent plays are extending the problem of classic texts living in the time. Versifications of these texts, changes in their interpretations in process of time became usual things in the theatre practice. Besides the vertical line of time, the problem is obtaining the horizontal – volume constant, on a bases of which the culture-recipient declares its own peculiars not in spontaneous manner (through the psychological set of an actor) but intentionally. These facts exactly give evidence for the depth of transformation in the Uzbek theatre art in the post-Soviet period. The Soviet theatre culture was a holistic ideological and art structure with general criteria, which revealed themselves in the staging of translated dramaturgy, first of all, the Western classics, where “the theatre of the Soviet East” tried to approach in maximum extent to the textbook interpretation that was fixed in philological or theatre critic works. Staging the play, the theatre adapted “native” to “imported”. An actor transmitted the national source.

The break of holistic structure of “multi – national Soviet theatre” into pieces caused changes of approaches and criteria to the theatre art, including interpretations of the Western drama. At the time when a number of plays reduced because of growing interest to own cultural heritage, the spectrum of quality differences significantly extended: variety of approaches had enriched art challenges.

In a line of the staging finds, the orientalization has occupied its own proper place, which seemed impossible from a point of previous criteria system. This tendency combines striving to the new and orientation to the classic traditions of spiritual culture, both the Western and Eastern. Foretelling the vitality of this tendency in the 21st century we can state: having a deficit of modern dramaturgy, which is seen not only in the Uzbek theatre and sharpened by the problem that all existing literature subjects have been already used in general, the intensity of new attempts can grow. Essentially, the world art process has already faced the total secondary interpretation of spiritual values accumulated before. In this background occur the needs to search for cultural dialogue in the theatre. In this case Centra] Asian theatres will obtain good opportunities of unique experiments synthesizing cultural values of the East and West.

Author: Ildar Mukhtarov

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