Written by German playwright, George Buchner, is a play set in the fictional kingdoms of Popo and Pipi. In a German state, where the ruler is the final authority and where the subjects have absolutely no free will, Prince Leonce and Princess Lena are forced to marry each other. But filled with melancholy, Leonce decides to renounce his royal duties and escape the system. And so does Lena. By a quirk of fate, they run away only to meet each other at an inn and fall in love.
Buchner’s theatrical universe may be nearly 200 years old, but it is still relevant today. Much like Leonce and Lena, we are like a cog in the well-oiled political machine, sometimes with no free will whatsoever. Hence, inspired by his political satire — which was Buchner’s only humorous play — two theatre groups, Perch based in Chennai and Rafiki from Bangalore will be presenting their adaptation How to Skin a Giraffe this week. Director Rajiv Krishnan says, “We still live a regimented life. Most of the time, we have a hand guiding us, telling us what we can do and what we can’t. It’s as if we are puppets controlled by strings.”
But the similarities with the original one stop there. Leonce and Lena has been reinterpreted in a way that suits the current ethos. Rajiv adds, “We have used Buchner’s play only as a reference point. We have kept the comical nature intact. But we tried to make our play very relevant to the Indian audience. In the original one, the language was old-fashioned and often poetic, unlike in ours which is multi-lingual. We also have live music, a simple set and colourful costumes to make our adaptation unique.”
Conceptualised last year, How to Skin a Giraffe premiered at a theatre fest in Chennai, marking Buchner’s 200th birth anniversary. Then on, the troupe has held shows in Bangalore, Kochi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. This will be the second run of the play in the city. But Rajiv says the audience can expect something different this time around. “We have had a diverse audience attending our past productions. We have incorporated their feedback in this year’s edition and have taken a different approach — it is a newer, tighter version and will be a treat even to those who have watched the previous ones. We have added a new character, rearranged some scenes and added a new scene.”