Dystopian landscapes, ruthless dictators, victims of the state, censorship and propaganda. These were the themes and subtext that made V for Vendetta, a comic book series by Alan Moore, a perfect choice for the Plan-A productions theatre group. It may have been set in an imaginary dystopian 1980s Britain, but it could have just as well been Karachi.
The play, which opened for three days on Friday at the Rangoonwala Centre, is an almost scene-by-scene, line-by-line adaptation of V for Vendetta the film. “A friend and I watched the film, and it was just amazing,” says Mustafa Changezi, the 21-year-old director of the play. “I kept thinking to myself that Aleem [an actor who had worked with Mustafa in an earlier play] would be perfect to play the High Chancellor, and things just started rolling from there.”
The chancellor is the all-powerful head of the totalitarian government Norse Fire, which controls Britain through persecution and propaganda.
The central figure in the story is V, a masked vigilante obsessed with Guy Fawkes, a historical figure who almost blew up the House of Parliament, played by Changezi.
The female lead is Evey, a young woman who V saves from an attempted rape, and strikes up an unusual alliance of sorts with him. Evey is played by Myra Merchant, 17, who finds the role a challenging one. “I’m nothing like her,” she quips. “I’m chirpy and hyper all the time, and she’s just this very confused and disturbed woman because of everything that’s happening around her.”
The play opens with an attempted rape on Evey, which sets the dark mood. The first half is concerned with story development, while the second half picks up considerably, with some excellent performances including those of the chancellor’s mental breakdown, Evey’s torture scene and the death of Dr Delia Surridge, played by Lisa, which received the most applause from the audience.
“Ambitious” is one word used by both the cast and audience to describe the play. V for Vendetta the film had the advantage of special effects to show off its multiple action scenes; the play has to make do with fake swords and strobe lighting to portray bullet shots. Several scenes from the film are also cropped, but this was inevitable, according to Changezi. “We had to keep only the essentials from the film, otherwise it would have just stretched on and on.” Still, it did lead to what one audience member saying, “Unless you’ve seen the film, I think you’d have really hard time understanding what’s going on.”
In the end, V for Vendetta strikes a chord primarily because of its political undertones. “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people,” was the central line said by V and repeated again by Changezi in the curtain call, to much cheering from the audience.
Audience members Saba and Farah Khalid found the play enjoyable because it was “extremely applicable to Pakistan.” Lisa, visiting here from Finland, was roped in to act in the play not just because she was friends with the director, but also because she “really like the idea of the movie”. Ultimately, the play is about “liberation, and standing up for yourself,” says Changezi. And the actual performance itself? “Practice makes perfect,” he asserts. Sunday is the last show. Tickets are available at Agha’s Supermarket, Espresso and Butler’s or at the venue.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2011.