‘Henrik Ibsen comes second only to William Shakespeare’

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Nissar Allana
Nissar Allana, 66, Theatre Scenograher Photo: S Thyagarajan

How were you drawn to theatre?
I saw a lot of interesting work in East Germany in 1969-70. Scenography and set design fascinated me. As I grew aware of my passion for theatre, I realised that scenography was taking its first faltering steps in India. I thought I could take part in the evolution of theatre in the country.

How did you create the Delhi Ibsen Festival?
To mark Henrik Ibsen’s death centenary in 2006, Norwegian missions all over the world decided to make people more aware of his work. Their embassy contacted me in 2008, and was willing to provide financial support for an event such as the festival. It wasn’t easy to organise, as I am a scenographer not an impresario. For me, Ibsen is one of the greatest playwrights, maybe second only to William Shakespeare.

What new perspectives do contemporary adaptations of Ibsen offer?
Ibsen’s work relies on character behaviour. The most fascinating approach in this year’s festival has been to highlight the non-verbal nature of the plays. Director Sankar Venkateswaran deserts text, narration and action in When We Dead Awaken. It is a testament to Ibsen’s greatness that contemporary artistes can still dig into his body of work and find new ways to interpret it. A movement that started in the late 1980s and early 1990s has now emerged, constantly offering new adaptations of Ibsen. We strive to commission new projects for the festival, because that is the only way to get Ibsen to appeal to the mainstream.

How do you react when confronted with Ibsen’s work?
Ibsen’s plays are very emotionally charged. The evocations of family dramas, of forms of passive violence, of human beings’ existential struggles generate a strong response; even when showcased in a the most simple manner. I would like, however, to emphasise on the non-verbal expression of dramatic emotion that his work, when successfully interpreted, manages to convey to the audience.

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