“A lot of me has gone into it,” says playwright Kevin Oliver, of his latest original work, The Lost.
The story of two young boys in a quest for answers about life and their purpose runs at Gems Modern Academy from September 13-15.
The Lost follows the adventures of Ahmad and Kabir — played by Rebanta Banerjee and Anirudh Rakesh — through a desert where they spend six “enlightening days”. Oliver says they find their answers because “every answer, at the end of the day, lies within you”.
Oliver’s last play Shakuntala made it all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and his credits include Cats, Starlight Express, Saturday Night Fever, The Circle of Life and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
He talks to Gulf News tabloid! about the challenges of directing 111 children (including the choir), and why his young actors blew him away. Excerpts from the interview.
Tell us a bit about the play.
The Lost is basically completely original. It’s made up of a series of 14 songs. It’s sung from beginning to end... [there are] only two existing characters in the entire thing: two boys called Ahmad and Kabir, who are 17 and 14 and [who] are basically like all teenagers of this time wanting answers, asking questions, always bugging people and never really finding the answers they are looking for. So they both decide one day — they are both orphans; looked after by a grandfather who has no time for them — to cross the desert hoping to find answers. And in the bargain they spend six enlightening days [laughs], I would say. The first day they are happy, they are running across the sand; then it slowly get darker as they realise that they are running out of food, they are running out of water. The sun’s getting too hot… they start hallucinating. Then comes a sandstorm and they are buried [in sand] and they are found by a Bedouin party. And the last song is a beautiful piece that tells them every answer, at the end of the day, lies within you.
What inspired you?
I was very disturbed by [the] political scenario around us, in the world… I found that the world was getting more and more negative instead of positive, so there was a lot of stuff that I brought out in this production; there’s references to politics, there’s references to war that’s going on everywhere; and the last message to everyone is: We want freedom at the end of the day… give us the freedom of speech.
‘The Lost’ is set in the Middle East, so are there any musical influences from the region?
We’ve set it loosely anywhere; it could be anywhere — I didn’t want to pinpoint a region, in case I got myself into any trouble [laughs]. So I loosely based it on two boys living in a desert. And they happen to have names like Ahmad and Kabir.
Like my last musical Shakuntala, I just took the essence of a story and ran with it as an opera, but a rock opera. And I [had] not [been] influenced really by any Indian music or anything; it was just an opera that told a fairy-tale story of Shakuntala and her prince. Like that, this one is loosely based on two modern young boys who listen to Justin Bieber and the rest of them. It’s like any two boys that you find on the street... I haven’t gone with any references, or any influences; it’s basically pop music that runs right through.
What were the challenges you faced in creating the show?
Gems Modern Academy is have an insane amount of activity that goes on in the school, which is great, but not so great for me, because to get the kids [to spare the time is tough]… then came their exams, then the two months of holidays and [they’re] only back just now and we are putting up the show in two days’ time.
[But] I feel I’ve managed to capture what I had in my brain an in my mind; [what] I dreamt of.
What is the biggest highlight of the play?
I think the biggest surprise that anyone’s going to have is having two teenage boys — one is 13 actually and the other is 17 — who had the most incredible [voices] I have heard in my career. I think that’s going to blow people away.
What’s a quote that sums up the story?
‘Is it a right of passage? Is it intuition? Is it unveiling life’s layers to seek the truth within our hearts and souls? In losing ourselves do we really find ourselves?’
Don’t miss it!
The Lost runs at Gems Modern Academy from September 13-15. Tickets to the show, which starts at 8.30pm, are Dh50.