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Mar 16-Mar 19

Ahead of one of the largest stage productions of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Eunice Tsang sits down with co-director Marie-Hélène Estienne to talk about Battlefield, a play adapted from a section of the 1985 landmark production, The Mahabharata

As part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, together with the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, are bringing Battlefield to the city. It is a select adaptation of the nine hour play The Mahabharata first performed thirty years ago, based off the epic Indian poem of the same name. Battlefield centres around ideas of war and loss, a subsection in the winding narrative of The Mahabharata. As we sit down with Marie-Hélène Estienne to discuss the production, we begin by attempting to elucidate the differences between the two intertwined works...

Between The Mahabharata and this more focused subsection, Battlefield, how different are the two to produce?
Oh, they’re very different. One is a long play, nine hours, that spans an entire epic poem, and the other, Battlefield, is only 70 minutes and an intimate look at a specific part of the larger epic. This particular part of the epic focuses on the problem of winning a war when millions of men have been destroyed.

What’s the motivation behind reproducing this particular section of The Mahabhrarata?

Since we met The Mahabharata, it never really left us. It references today’s life on earth with its genocides, terror and our negligence. It’s wars between brothers and cousins, which made Battlefield’s central theme so appealing.

That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to portray such a theme, especially when we want to be accessible and simple. Having said that, we won’t exactly be giving lessons or indicating the way that The Mahabharata and Battlefield should affect you. We want to share with audiences, in many different countries, what The Mahabharata tells us now, today.

You are always billed as a co-creator, co-director, etc with Peter Brook. What is your working relationship like?
It took a long time to put together. As you know, Peter is one of the greatest directors in theatre right now, and he’s made beautiful films as well. Being near him for so long is a great pleasure, and I do my utmost when we work side by side. Our styles are different, but at the same time very, very close, so this is an extraordinary adventure.

What is the day-to-day like in the theatre?
We work and work again and again to adapt the production to new venues. Sometimes we even change the text of the play. I feel that, whether Peter is with us personally or not that day, that we are a group, and we work well together as a team, especially the actors and musicians involved.

Looking back, how has theatre changed since the original 1985 production of The Mahabharata?
Simplicity, elimination of elements mostly. Theatre has aged and we need to keep up to date and develop.

Any words of advice for the Hong Kong theatre scene?

Let’s meet and talk and see what we can do together! We need to share, and perhaps in sharing, help can come both ways. That’s important, it’s why I always ask to do a workshop with young directors in the cities I visit. In exchanging histories and knowing each other, something important opens and happens; even if it’s a drop, that drop can become a river.

Battlefield Mar 16-19, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Studio Theatre, 10 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui; Tickets: $300-$520;


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10 Salisbury Rd

Area Tsim Sha Tsui


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