August Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Society | Published 11 years ago

Many of Pakistan’s intelligentsia, most notably rising star Daniyal Mueenuddin, have recently noted the similarities between Pakistan today and 19th century Russia. This perhaps explains the rising interest in Russian literature and drama among the young and culturally aware. But the KB Thespians’ July performance of three Chekhov plays evidences the downside of this new enthusiasm: sheer incompetence ruining masterpieces.

Staged at the Southend Club before an auditorium more empty than full, From Russia With Love comprised the classics On The Dangers of Smoking Tobacco,The Marriage Proposal and The Bear.

The first of the plays featured the henpecked Nyukhun (Abdul Aleem Shekhani), forced into lecturing an audience on tobacco, but sniping about his dominant wife instead. Full of sparkling one-liners and turns of phrase at once comic and pathetic, it has the potential to enthral the audience. Yet many were checking the time and yawning at points during Shekhani’s performance.

Next was The Marriage Proposal, the tale of nervous young Lomov (Tahir Shamim), off to ask his neighbour Tschubukov (Salik Abbasi) for permission to propose to his daughter Natalia (Mehreen Hashmi). It seemed promising at first, but Hashmi dragged the entire production down with her, as she plunged into overacting and theatrics. Several viewers mimicked her sing-song voice, mispronunciation and screeches. Language was a problem across the board, with actors stumbling on lines and words and, occasionally, slipping into slang and obvious improvisations.

Finally, most disappointing was the flop of their grand finale, The Bear, about creditor Smirnov (Shekhani), a woman-hater in dire straits, who arrives to claim a debt from the widow (Sabiha Zia) of his friend Mihailovitch. Again, Abbasi and Shekhani were commendable, but both they and Zia seemed lacklustre and stilted, resulting in a skit only mildly entertaining at best and sleep-inducing at worst.

While this may seem a harsh critique, one must appreciate the fact that the group is new to the theatre scene and is no doubt ready to learn a great deal. The KB Thespians are now planning to put on Moliere’s Tartuffe after Ramadan — a worthy choice.

Try, try again, KB Thespians.

Akbar Shahid Ahmed is a Washington-based reporter for the Huffington Post, writing on U.S. foreign policy. He has contributed to Newsline since 2008.