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What the doc didn’t prescribe

The Medicine Show, the unique cabaret with its provocative acts is back, wrirtes Amitava Sanyal.

art and culture Updated: Feb 26, 2010 22:32 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Fifty-something Ravi, a dapper gentleman in suit-and-tie who works for one of the largest computer companies, gets up to sing. Prompting him is barefooted, flaming-haired Antoine Redon who is cradling a guitar. Redon’s voice booms: “Sodomy, fellatio...” Ravi tries to match it note for note, but fails.

It’s just another rehearsal/audition day for Stiff Kittens, a production team that’s preparing the sixth dose of The Medicine Show, a revelry of acts inspired by the European cabaret and the song-and-dance routines that used to accompany the quack on his tours of the American deep south.

“I understand that ‘cabaret’ means something different in India,” says Stefan Kaye, the British-born musician who is instigator-in-chief for the show.

If you’re expecting shimmying hips à la Helen, perish the thought. But you can expect rock band MenWhoPause to perform John Cage’s 4’33”, a composition that doesn’t feature a single note. Or an excerpt from ‘lyrical pop duo’ Sridhar-Thayil’s opera noir, ‘The Flying Wallas’. Or American Peter Eisenhauer donning horns while playing violin to ‘Cool water’, a 1930s’ cowboy song that addresses Dan, a horse.

All this is, of course, just a sneak peek into the shock-a-minute show that’s expected to stretch close to two hours.

Has the audience ever objected to the provocative acts? “A few aunties have dropped their jaws, nothing else,” says Kaye, who, before coming to Delhi four years ago, worked in London with a “theatrical music show” and in Barcelona as a dubbing artist for porn films.

The cult status of the show, which insists on a bit of Hindi content, has soared. After five shows in 10 months, Kaye and company are poised to perform their next five over the next few weeks — in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, after three in Delhi and Gurgaon.

“It’s (Monty) Python, really,” says Kaye. Indeed, the only line that can introduce the show is the old British comedy circus’s credo: ‘And now for something completely different.’ Poor Ravi.