Loretta is inspired by the spirit of the tiatr, Portuguese for ‘theatre’. The plays are all musicals and the experience comprises brass sections, Latin influences and energetic melodies that carried the story forward. Tiatr is also known for its use of side shows, which are short shows that are staged in front of the curtain, traditionally used as a distraction while the set changes behind the scenes. They are often unrelated to the larger plot, and tend to employ irreverent satire to keep the audiences entertained.
The play Loretta is set in the 70s on a river island in Goa. The story is about a widower Antonio Moraes, a bhatkar (landlord), who lives a rather comfortable life in his resplendent home, with much help from a lot of locals. Surrounded by bakers, gardeners, a Man Friday and a whole lot of others, Antonio, a great votary of the Konkani language, is rather protective of his island.
Antonio’s son Rafael returns from Mumbai with his Anglo Indian girlfriend, after completing his education. Rafael doesn’t quite share his father’s love for Goa and the Konkani culture and is in fact rather dismissive of it. On the other hand, Loretta shares a strong need for roots and the ‘son of the soil’ sentiment. Despite that, Antonio doesn’t warm up to her instantly. He tells her that the only way she can continue living on the island is if she can speak Konkani and marries someone from the island.
Chaos ensues as Antonio issues another challenge to Loretta. With a little help from some friends, Loretta manages to appear successful, before an apparent tragedy befalls them.
Through Shanbag’s inimitable style, Loretta addresses serious issues with the help of the distinctive features of the genre. The side shows provide a good measure of satire and the music creates the perfect ambience of a bygone era.
In 1985, Sunil Shanbag founded the theatre company Arpana. Its work is characterised by contemporary and original texts by Indian and international playwrights (in translation), strong performances, minimalist staging, and innovative use of music and design. In 2007, Shanbag directed the critically acclaimed Cotton 56, Polyester 84 which won three META awards at the Mahindra Theatre Festival, including Best Original Script for its writer, Ramu Raman. In 2012, Shanbag was invited to perform a Gujarati adaptation of All’s Well That Ends Well, as part of the Globe to Globe festival in London. In 2014, the play was invited back to the Globe for another run of shows in a month that marked the 450th birth anniversary of Shakespeare.