The Cheria Aana office in Nungambakkam is alive with giggles, chatter and jazzy music. A bunch of young actors have congregated in the room. Some are waltzing, while others are practising gymnastic stunts; fun warm-up sessions in preperation for an exhaustive rehearsal of The Little Theatre’s pantomime this year. The theme is Harry Potter. And the team is all set to take the audience into a Potterverse filled with spells, wizards and witches.
“Silence all! Let’s bring that energy on stage,” says Prashanth Oliver, script-writer and director of the production, and a self-confessed potterhead. He’s putting the production together with Krishnakumar B, the artistic director. The scene is familiar. A tri-wizard tournament has been declared. Enter Dumbridge, Dobby, Neville, Moaning Myrtle, along with a floating, philosophical Dumbledore.
The scene being rehearsed is the introduction of Dumbridge, played by Michelle Ann James, who sends a chill down your spine. Oliver says they stress a lot on improvisation. “That’s how we carve characters for the play. The show is written after we see what they are capable of. The actors are part and parcel of creating the act.”
The workshops have helped the actors to explore their characters in depth, says James. The exercises explore the physical space. They also had to work on other characters, which was challenging. “Wicked was my forte and it came easily to me. However, we had to break away from our comfort zones. As we progressed, we had to create characters of our own,” she adds.
Even though she is a Potterhead herself, knowing the character helped little in the performance.
“I had to shed my knowledge of the book. While Rowling’s Umbridge leaned more towards being prim and proper, the one in the panto is more of a diva.” The 61-member cast includes children as young as eight-years-old as well as adults between the ages of 18 and 31.
The music will take audiences on a trip to the 80s. “There is something for everyone — be it rock and roll, pop music or R&B.” Their challenge was to recreate the atmosphere of dark, depressing dungeons and imposing castles in the Museum Theatre. Choreography is by Vikas Rao, who has worked with The Little Theatre for the last six to seven years.
“The choreography shows urgency, fear and love. That way, our songs and dance worked together to tell a story. The genres include Western dance, salsa, jazz, hip hop, ball room and slow dancing,” says Oliver.
While conceptualising the play, he began by reading all the seven Harry Potter books. New stories began to evolve, as he reimagined the narrative with new characters, eliminated old ones, and then added a touch of pop culture. Dumbridge’s favourite student and partner-in-crime in the play speaks with a strong Tamil accent and suffers from malapropism. Some terms are obviously pun intended like the Grand Sorcerer Tournament or GST.
However, the essence of the Potter world stays. “In the book, you have friends who are always together. No matter where Ron, Harry and Hermoine are from, they still come together and create magic. That is the underlying theme: friendship, togetherness and openness.”