Chandran Veyattummal

Chandran Veyattummal was introduced to me by the late Professor G Sankara Pillai in 1987, as part of the group of actors and kalari artists from Kerala who would join my company Tara Arts in London to produce a play based on the Mahabharata. And so began my nearly 40-year history of working with Chandran, a musician like no other I have worked with, who taught me all I know about music in theatre. 

We went on to work together on a wide range of productions: Danton’s Death, with Shelley King, Shobu Kapoor, Yasmin Sidhwa, Murali Menon and others; The Government Inspector, directed by Anuradha Kapur from the National School of Drama in Delhi and featuring Nizwar Karanj and Yogesh Bhatt among others; and, in the following year, when I directed Moliere’s Tartuffe for the National Theatre. Playing flute, sitar, mridangham and dhol, Chandran proved a commanding presence in this production, which toured around the world before returning to the National, with a cast that included Ayub Khan Din, Bhasker Patel, Paul Bhattacharjee and Vincent Ebrahim. After playing the clarinet with a klezmer musician in my production of Oedipus, which also featured Janet Steele and Antony Bunsee, Chandran returned with me to the National when we staged Sudraka’s The Little Clay Cart in 1993, with Stanley Townsend and Shehnaz Khan also in the cast.

From the mid-90s, Chandran worked with Footsbarn Theatre company in France, touring their brand of exciting ‘tent’ theatre. At the beginning of this century, we resumed working in London on a variety of projects. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, he played compositions on the saxophone – an instrument he learnt to play in London – accompanying the work of Robert Mountford and Zehra Naqvi among others in the cast. His haunting melodies still resound in my head. And, of course, he learnt to play the cello, when he worked with me on The Taste for Mangoes, which we staged in one of London’s oldest theatres, with Gerald Murphy, Koel Purie, Soni Razdan and Ashwin Joshi among the cast. More recently, he developed compositions for a new version of The Mahabharata I am planning to stage in London.

This short run-through of Chandran’s career in the UK does not do enough justice to the immense contribution he has made to the theatre here, bringing a unique sound to our stages with consummate skill, joy and creativity. His music made our work – as actors, directors, designers, writers – greater, more poignant, funnier. Without question we are lessened by his loss…but must now take heart by remembering what he has given us over the years. Not least of which are his magic tricks. Those brilliant hands of his – drumming, playing the flute, the sax, or strings – were just as agile when fooling us time and again with his magic tricks during break times or after shows! Chandran brought the throbbing pulse of India to the UK through his presence, and I for one shall forever be grateful to have known him. 

Died 22 May 2022, in Calicut Medical College, Kerala