It is often that I find myself saying: "The concept was great, if only the execution lived up to it." Mind Walking was a change – it made me say the exact opposite.
The story of an old man whose degenerating brain keeps wandering into a pretty predictable past, doesn’t make for the most exciting plot. What holds the play together is some top-notch acting – and the very interesting use of a hoop.
Right in the center of the stage hangs this hoop. It has no physical existence in the context of the play. We see it; the characters in Mind Walking (except the one hallucinating) do not. The hoop is a doorway to the old man Bobbie (played beautifully by Peter D’Souza)’s thoughts – he steps through it, and he steps into the world his mind has brought alive for him. The hoop is also the dock that the other characters stop at to give vent to their angst. The more intense the angst, the more bizarre Bobbie’s delirium, the wilder the spin of the hoop.
Bobbie’s thoughts venture into territory he has kept away from his family. The promos promised "secrets and hidden stories" tumbling out of Bobbie’s mouth – don’t hold your breath for them. Apart from the first revelation, the rest that follows isn’t terribly surprising. His recounting of life in India can be picked out from a Book of Clichés. The central conflict, revealed in the end, can be seen a mile off. [Since this is an Indo-British collaboration, it may have been a conscious decision to keep the Indian context simple for overseas audiences.]
The only anecdote that stuck out was the little one about Noel Coward – did he really visit Bobbie’s Mumbai home or was Bobbie making that up? If he did, why exactly was he rude to his mother?
Where Mind Walking is most effective is in bringing out the helplessness of Bobbie’s family as they try to make sense of his ramblings. You feel for the daughter’s horror when he mistakes her for his mother, and in another scene at the hospital, her delight when he recognizes her as Rosa. Philippa Vafadari who plays the daughter is a treat to watch emote, especially when she is manoeuvring the hoop. Incidentally, she is also the founder and creative director of the group behind the play, Bandbazi – the word is Persian for "trapeze".
The conversations play out very well. My favourite is one in which the grandson ((Dylan Kennedy) tries to get Bobbie to talk of his cultural identity, and Bobbie is off on a tangent speaking about other things. It is a frustrating conversation till suddenly their lines connect. Another high point is the emotionally charged dialogue between mother and son, both hoisted on the hoop.
Central to the story is the 40-year long marriage between Bobbie and Moira (Kate Dyson). Moira is a model of compassion and deals with Bobbie’s senility with better humour and nerve than the children, a welcome antithesis to the daughter’s torment.
Caring for the elderly and watching them wither can be a devastating experience. Mind Walking deals with the subject with great poignancy and sensitivity. One wishes that every aging person gets a family like Bobbie’s to take care of them.
1. How impressive it is when actors wipe off years from themselves with just a change of expressions and posture. Bobbie (Peter D’Souza) and Moira (Kate Dyson) seem effortlessly youthful in the memories of their early days of courtship. I’m also reminded of Love Letters with Rajat Kapoor and Shernaz Patel, in which they show the passage of years without even stepping away from the stage.
2. Special applause for the man linked to the hoop, walking up and down a ladder on the side of the stage to control its movements. No less a performance than that of the four actors on stage.
3. I saw Mind Walking at Jagriti Theatre in Bangalore. It’s a nice and small theatre space, just right for a play with minimal props and an intimate character.