Denver Anthony Nicholas' play Ramses—the Fall of a Pharaoh promises a special musical treat with a good measure of song and dance thrown in
Presented by Chennai Art Theatre, Denver’s play is an attempt to portray Ramses as ‘not so bad’ a king
For centuries, the identity of Pharaoh (King Ramses II the great) in the story of Moses has been much debated. This biblical story narrates the event from 13th century Exodus, the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. But the play that we are going to talk about is on Ramses — the principal villain of the story — the stepbrother of Moses. Rants like ‘I don’t know this God of yours’and ‘I would not let the Hebrews be set free’ have been attributed to this angry young man. Theatre director Denver Anthony Nicholas’ musical play Ramses — The Fall of a Pharaoh, promises to change our perception by the end of the show. “I was always fascinated by Ramses’ character and my biggest inspiration behind the play was the 1956 film The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille,” says Denver, who is also the writer of the play.
Presented by Chennai Art Theatre, Denver’s play is an attempt to portray Ramses as ‘not so bad’ a king, “He was advised by his father to be cruel and he followed his wish,” Denver defends his take on the story. Last Sunday, we caught up with the crew at Canopy, a rehearsal space where we got a sneak peek of the actors decked up in their period costumes, all set for their final grand rehearsal before the play goes on stage this weekend. It was a typical theatre rehearsal scene where girls were chattering about the queen Nefertari (played by Mrittika Chatterjee)’s hairdo while Ramses (played by Yohan Chacko) requests for a proxy; for he has quite a long speech at the end, and Moses (played by Sandeep John) is nose deep in his script.
As the rehearsal began with a voice-over followed by voices from heaven (Craig Lobo and Zubin Vincent) paired with live music, we were transported to the land of milk and honey — 13th century Egypt. The best part was the song and dance — the sheer talent and effort was enough to have us sitting there in rapture. Denver tells us that all the songs have been written by the performers (Yohan, Sandeep, Sangita Santosham and Jonathan Titus). “Music for the play is composed in-house and for the dance sections we have used recorded music from other artistes,” shares the director.
The hour and 30-minute long rehearsal was smooth and had us thoroughly engaged. Denver and his team of talented artistes do succeed in telling a story that is beyond the politics and the differences between Ramses and Moses — it ends up being a story about two brothers. “I wanted to show the human aspect of Ramses. In the Bible, Moses is revered and Pharaoh is a bad guy. I wanted to show this from a different angle and focus on Ramses’ emotions. For me, he is not a villain but the wrong guy in the wrong place and at the wrong time,” Denver explains and also tells us that the original script was written in 2005 and it was a three hour-long musical called Moses. Denver revisited the play in 2007 and realised that Ramses is not a villain and revived the script. But it was only in 2017 (when he did his last musical Rock of Ages), that he thought of reviving Moses and connected with Yohan and Sandeep. “I always wanted them to play Ramses and Moses in the play,” he insists.
Prepared in 45 days of rehearsal, Denver and his actors initially rehearsed at Yohan’s terrace. “It was only last week that we started rehearsing at this space (Canopy),” he confirms. Despite the limitations of budget (which usually goes into about `8-10 lakh, here they have made do with about three lakh), and space, the play promises a special theatrical treat. “Musicals are my forte and I like them to be on a grand scale, but the big auditoriums are shut, so I have visualised the play with a smaller space in mind,” he shares in conclusion.