Hayavadana

Soulpepper Theatre's 'Around the World in 80 Plays' series

Soulpepper website

Dave Rabjohn

We often see a love triangle as a stock plotline in many productions. But what about a love pentagon? Piqued your interest?

Through a series of fantastical situations this strange outcome is part of Girish Karnad’s popular 1971 play from India. As part of Soulpepper’s ’Around the World in 80 Plays’ festival ‘Hayavadana’ tracks the bizarre lives of Kapila and Devadatta in their pursuit of the beautiful Padmini. This is a retelling from original Indian folk tales which includes the honouring of various gods and develops the theme of personal completeness.

Something of a play within a play, we begin with Bhagavata as a narrator who is interrupted by an actor who claims to have seen a man with a horse’s head (Hayavadana.) This strange creature appears on stage and sets the background for the main story.

Devadatta and Kapila are the best of friends, but they are opposite in every way. Devadatta is intellectual and poetic. He is not athletic, somewhat paunchy, and overweight. Kapila is athletic, a champion wrestler, the son of a blacksmith who is less than cerebral. Devadatta describes the beautiful Padmini and announces he is in love and wishes to marry. Kapila, wanting to serve his friend, goes to Padmini to explain his friend’s intent but he also falls in love with her. Devadatta marries Padmini and the friendship with Kapila continues.

The story turns dark as Padmini is less than happy with her cerebral husband and Devadatta becomes jealous of Kapila who is constantly noticed by Padmini. The two friends commit suicide by cutting off their own heads and Padmini (Juliet like) enters and discovers the bodies. Tormented, she seeks the advice of the Goddess Kali who tells her to reattach the heads and she will revive the two men. Unknowingly, Padmini switches the heads, and the men are revived with their heads on the wrong body. Bizarre indeed!

Enter the theme of incompleteness. The friends find their situation hilarious until eventually they bemoan the loss of their own bodies and they start to change their bodies into the former likeness. Moral and ethical questions are inserted as a visha contends that the head rules the body so Devadatta with Kapila’s body is the true wife of Padmini and the father of their son. Padmini believes she is happy with her original husband now with a beautiful body. Clearly, the centre cannot hold and all three-commit suicide.

As an audio only performance, the various voices are highlighted. The narrator is professional and calm while Hayavadana is excited with a high voice. Devadatta (played by Ravi Jain) is quiet and thoughtful, contrasting Kapila (Anand Rajarim) who is jovial with a comedic high pitched voice. Padmini (Nadine Bhabha) usually sounds business like and practical with many suspicions and questions. Other highlights from sound designer Debashis Sinha include the chaotic noises of battle between the two men, some lovely background sitar strings, and the clomping of hooves as Hayavadana becomes a complete horse.
Ambitiousness becomes the hubris in this play – characters think they are happy and complete until they realize they are not grounded in their contentment. Padmini reinforces this when she asks, “must the head always win?”

One note of humour touches ironically on these paragraphs as one character is described as someone who “doesn’t laugh and doesn’t cry – he should grow up to be a theatre critic.”

‘Hayavandana’ by Girish Karnad
Produced by Soulpepper Theatre and Why Not Theatre

Director – Miriam Fernandes
Sound designer – Debashis Sinha
Performers – Nadine Bhabha, Sehar Bhojani, Sharada Eswar, Sarena Parmar, Ellora Patnaik, Nadeem Phillip, Anand Rajaram, Navtej Sandhu, Ravi Jain

Abstract Building
Black on Transparent_edited.png