The man on a black horse: Supporting theatre in Pakistan

Published: February 18, 2013
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The narrative is told in three movements; reality; madness; and revelation, and the overall tone of the play is quite bleak, featuring some dark humour as well. PHOTO: SCHEHREZADE JUNEJO/ PUBLICITY

To the neighsayers (warning: some awful horse puns) who claim that Pakistani plays can’t stay the course, I give you The Man on a Black Horse. 

Running at T2F, formerly known as The Second Floor, in Karachi, Pakistan, The Man on a Black Horse is a highly energetic piece of theatre which accomplishes what few other live performances in Pakistan have: it doesn’t suck.

Written and directed by Rouvan Mahmud and Ali Junejo (the duo are also two of the three performers in the play), the performance tells the tale of two soldiers, Sal (Rouvan) and Rumi (Ali).

These characters, through the memories of an enigmatic woman they both loved named Lisa (Meher Jaffri), contemplate their actions in a guilt ridden mixture of denial and remorse, as they slowly progress down the path of madness.

The narrative is told in three movements; reality; madness; and revelation, and the overall tone of the play is quite bleak, featuring some dark humour as well.

To watch The Man on a Black Horse you must pony up Rs1,000, which is twice as much as the cost of a movie ticket, but is certainly worth the fee, because the show has all the elements that make such a live event worthwhile.

The performance takes place entirely in a small cage, and is surrounded in an intimate setting by the audience to create an atmosphere that makes the narrative all the more compelling. What is especially impressive is how quickly the performers manage to get their set ready in between acts, which are punctuated by several seconds of complete darkness.

Also impressive are the acting chops for all three players, with all three having dramatic bits strong enough to raise goose bumps.

Rouvan, who plays the ‘pretty but slow’ soldier, is mostly convincing, especially when his character Sal starts to lose his marbles. There is a particularly chilling segment where Sal gives to a superior officer in sickening detail an account of how he committed the rape of a young girl. It was a well-played moment which evoked audible gasps from the viewing members of the audience. But while it was shocking, it was also necessary in understanding the character.

Ali and Meher are also mostly consistent, though they unfortunately take the cheaper route of screaming for dramatic effect far too often in The Man on a Black Horse. While all three actors displayed good emotional range, I feel that they can take a lesson from great theatre actors that are able to deliver powerful impact with subtle changes in facial expressions.

Meher also had segments where she sang English numbers, though with all that screaming, it is a wonder her throat didn’t go horse… err… hoarse.

Facing the limitations of only three performers, cleverly, the three actors in The Man on a Black Horse adopt English accents, as opposed to American ones for the main characters, when playing supporting roles, in order to differentiate characters.

Here, I was struck as to why obviously Pakistani actors were playing English and American characters, when the nationalities and politics in The Man on a Black Horse weren’t so clearly defined. Further confusing was the final act of the piece, where I frankly didn’t understand the ‘revelation’ passage of play. Though I suppose I should get back on the saddle, and go in for another viewing.

Even though the play started twenty minutes late, overall, the production for The Man on a Black Horse went off without a hitch. Once on stage, the actors displayed some great energy that added to the matchless experience of enjoying a play.

At the end of the performance, Ali requested that the audience spread the word about the play, if only to support the art of theatre in Pakistan.

That’s not necessary Ali, The Man on a Black Horse can stand on its own four legs.

PHOTOS: NADIR SIDDIQUI/PUBLICITY

Read more by Noman here or follow him on Twitter @Pugnate

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.