A one-performer play throws up discomforting questions
ast weekend, Gilian Rhodes brought to Lahore a one-person play, Searching for Pierrot. The play was about a young boy growing up in the late 19th Century who, after a strange series of events, finds himself constantly looking for a sad clown from the theatre – Pierrot. The story is told with the help of four other characters who, while playing their part, elucidate the boy’s life.
The play was written, directed and acted by Rhodes, who seamlessly transitioned between the five characters. Apart from the young boy, the characters were: the boy’s father, a woman in red dress; Pierrot, the actor and the sad clown; and the Creature. The five characters take ample space on stage as the boy goes through the mimes, the freak show and the opera. Rhodes does a deft job at showing the audience the mental state of the young boy being raised by a narcissistic father and a distant mother – leaving the boy to figure himself out in the strangest of ways.
The boy states his desire to be “remarkable”, someone who is remembered and given attention. The very crux of the play stems from the boy’s troubled relationship with his parents, where unhealed traumas, lack of connectivity with caregivers and a lack of agency over his own life sets him to seek, and perhaps save, the sad clown. It isn’t until the very end of the play, when the boy has grown up and is still in search of Pierrot, that the audience realises that the boy and the clown are the same. The performance thus turns into self-discovery.
While the dialogues in the play, thoroughly conversational and not particularly profound or punchy, did not stand out, the characters surely did. Rhodes has created characters that are not only well portrayed but also terribly human and, even at their worst, relatable. The woman in the red dress, belonging to the world of the rich and carrying the vices that often go with it, takes the plot forward by enticing the sad clown to leave the mimes and join the opera where he does not belong. We are shown the boy‘s pain at seeing the sad clown let go of something familiar for something uncomfortable at the behest of someone more powerful than him. While nominally it is the life of the clown, one cannot help noticing the similarity between the boy and the clown – both lack agency.
The woman in the red dress, belonging to the world of the rich and carrying the vices that often go with it, takes the plot forward by enticing the sad clown to leave the mimes and join the opera where he does not belong. We are shown the boy’s pain at seeing the sad clown let go of something familiar for something uncomfortable at the behest of someone more powerful than him.
The Creature is introduced as ugly and monstrous and yet people visiting the freak show pay money to see it, to experience the horror of seeing something so different from humans; and perhaps to revel in its misery. Using these characters, Rhodes is able to show the universality of human life, tendencies and experience. This is no mean feat in a play of one-hour duration being performed by a single person.
The lighting and sound were well-curated and deliberate. This is always a plus in performing arts. Depending on the mood of the play, the lighting shifted from hard to soft and even violent blinking. It seemed to correspond directly with the mental state of the protagonist. The atmosphere and mood of the performance were further aided by Taimoor Kazmi on the harmonica. The sudden yet seamless transitioning between characters was, however, the most enjoyable element of the play. Rhodes’s shoe choice for the performance – ballet shoes – was also interesting to notice.
Searching for Pierrot was staged at Tagh’eer, Lahore, a cultural space that hosts art exhibitions, book launches, performing arts and musical gigs. It is always uplifting to see some people keeping the art and culture scene alive against a backdrop of political turmoil, inflation and, in the broadest sense, violence. A society without the arts is a tragedy in itself.
The reviewer is a writer and journalist based in Lahore. She has studied at Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism