In a scene from Shakuntala are, from left, Siyasanga Tundzi (Mother Gautami), Zanele Mkhize (Shakuntala), Sipho Zakwe (Saradvata), Simemezelo Xulu (King Dushyanta), Mpilo Khumalo (Sarngarava). Picture: Val Adamson

STEERING away from the usual Shakespearean and Greek classics, the Durban University of Technology drama and production studies department began staging a fifth-century classical Sanskrit masterpiece – Shakuntala.

Director Robin Singh says Shakuntala tells the story of a king (Dushyanta) who falls in love with a girl of humble origins, the beautiful Shakuntala. Then an ill-tempered hermit curses the golden lotus Shakuntala for neglecting him. The curse results in the king forgetting who she is. But fate has a way of righting all wrongs and intervenes.

“A lot of the time the choice of classics is dictated by plays which have a large cast and we also tend to look for plays that have a larger cast because we are a training institution and we need to give more students opportunity… But this year we thought an Indian classic might be a nice change,” he explained.

Singh said some of the dominating themes explored in Shakuntala revolved around love and the “belief that there is a kind of cosmic justice that does exist”.

He explained that in classical Indian theatre there were several rasas (sentiments) explored and that in Shakuntala these were the principal emotions of desire, affection, erotic longing and sadness.

“Although we do see elements of the comic and heroic as well. We have a more realistic translation of the play. There are elements of real-ism in it and the language has been changed drastically to make it more accessible,” he said.

“We were hoping to incorporate classic Indian dance into the play but the student who was supposed to do it sustained a very bad knee injury a short while back and it is too short a period to get another classically trained dancer on board.”

Singh said the play is in the three parts: “The first part of the play takes place in a forest, the second scene is at the palace and the third scene at a Holy place,” said Singh.

Shakuntala will see a large DUT cast in rich fabrics sporting costume design by Singh and Vasugi Singh – a trained classical Indian dancer who is also serving as cultural adviser.

The set is a collaborative design by Robin Singh, Marcia Peschke and Professor Deborah Lutge. Lighting design is by Courtyard Theatre Manager Mthandazo Mofokeng, who won the Best Technicians award at the Grahamstown National Arts Festivals in 2010 and last year.

* The play is staged daily until Friday at 7pm at the Courtyard Theatre, DUT, Steve Biko Road. Tickets R20 at the door. Bookings: Lebohang Sibisi at 031 373 2194.