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MADURAI, February 26, 2015
T. SARAVANAN

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With its first ever performance in Madurai, The Smallest Theatre in the World threw open an entirely new dimension to staging plays.

It can be a bit confusing initially. For, it is not street theatre as we understand – simply performing small skits on social issues without many props. This one is like literally carrying a mini theatre to the streets!

"It is a fully functional theatre that can be mounted on the side car of a Bullet Enfield," declares Dave Denzig, the proprietor of The Grand Theatre of Lemmings, London. It is actually a wooden box measuring six by five feet and perfectly designed for accommodating two people inside to be seated as the audience. And it is complete with stage, proscenium arch, luxurious interior that includes velvet cushion seats and changing sceneries on the exterior. "We can boast that our performances our always houseful!" chuckles Dave, also one of the performers.

The smallest theatre in the world was conceived and built by legendary Marcel Steiner four decades ago. At a time when many theatre groups were performing inside swanky auditoriums, Marcel grabbed people’s attention by bringing the proscenium to the streets. “In England, we call it as outdoor arts and can include anything from dance, music, painting sessions to dramas,” he says, adding such performances are very popular in coastal towns. With the death of Marcel Steiner, the smallest theatre also disappeared. Dave, a faithful student of Marcel, stepped in after 14 years to revive it. "I had no idea about drama when Marcel picked me up from a group of people watching his plays because he saw. I was the only one laughing my heart out," says Dave, who with another performer Mandy Medlicott turned the fortunes of smallest and also the funniest street theatre. Some of the plays Marcel staged in U.K included A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace and Titanic and Dave was gradually drawn into the rhythm of life in theatre.

At present, the Grand Theatre of Lemmings has a star cast of four actors who produce and stage outrageously funny plays following every convention such as well conceived script split into two acts and five scenes. While the small virtual theatre has only two seats, the show provides a hilarious view of the backstage and on-stage antics for the real audience in the front."It is like a play within a play as we perform two shows simultaneously, one for the people inside the theatre and one for those outside," says Mandy.

To Madurai, the team bought the hilarious adaptation of the legendary story of King Kong. It was presented at different venues across the city. In Lemmings style, actors played multiple roles like Mandy played a sailor, a glamorous film star and a member of the air force. The other members of the group are Cassie Catchpole and Rose Lucas. There is plenty of hat-switching with props galore, like aeroplane toys hung on a stick and swirled over the audience to show how people are transported from the Fog Island to New York City.

Cassie as the giant ape and expressive Mandy were outstanding. The way Mandy and Dave introduced the theatre to the audience deserves appreciation. From Dave preparing lemonade for the people during interval to Mandy demonstrating the cosy interiors of the Smallest Theatre in the world, the group kept audience connect intact. "Everything is part of the act," says Dave. "That is the great advantage of street theatre as there is every chance of making up the mistakes we commit while we perform," says Mandy.

Alex Dellow an independent filmmaker joined the group to document the performances.

The group is visiting India to interact with indigenous theatre groups and initiate a fruitful cultural exchange. They were brought to Madurai by the Russ Foundation and Nigazh Theatre Centre.