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Screen + Sound + Stage
April 23, 2014

The Jester Piece

Text by Nittal Chandarana

A contemporary retelling of a classic; a play within a play. William Shakespeare’s world of words and the humour in his tragedies….

‘It’s not started yet!’ he reassured us as we looked on, completely focused at the funny little man on stage. Suitcase in hand, hat on head, his face – a shimmery white, he encouraged us to finish that last SMS we were hurriedly waiting to send. The man was indeed a clown – the finest we’d seen. He could rattle off monologues in gibberish and move us to tears. He could also entertain an audience from ages eight to eighty and educate them on the subject of – wait for it – King Lear. He could bring out the austere in an eight-year-old and indulge the slapstick in the grandpa. We saw Atul Kumar previously in Hamlet – The Clown Prince. That was with his clown buddies. Each exceptionally talented, but I digress.

The astounding fact of the matter is that these two supposedly-serious Shakespearean tragedies have been ricocheted into laugh-a-thons and the bard can do little about it. Maybe sanction a chuckle or two at all the tomfoolery. Both plays are a delightful amalgamation of English and gibberish, both reveal the tragic end right at the beginning, both are productions of The Company Theatre and directed by Rajat Kapoor.

The clownified versions are a result of months of writing and improvisation. Hamlet not only presents to you the story in an endearing but higgledy-piggledy format, but also highlights the professional relationships of the clown company. A play within a play. There are alcohol problems, relationship drama, lobbying for the lead – not very different from an actual theatre group. But, the story is told.

Nothing Like Lear, which showed a few days ago in Mumbai (and is running at Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal today), goes off on an adventure of its own, proving to be just that – nothing like the original. A mono act, the valiant actor time and again meanders away from the story to interact with his audience, break into an anecdote, star in his own mime act. There is an entire silent piece thrown in wherein they also play with shadows. The lighting is so beautifully done that you have to sit back and marvel at it for a couple of moments. All this activity; a 90-minute show. Who will opt for the original, you ask?

William Shakespeare’s work will never be forgotten. These are comic clown adaptations. Other groups have put up their own versions of his plays, trading in the names and the culture and Indianising it. Although ancient English and the iambic pentameter are sacred to traditionalists, there exists a slowly burgeoning movement that enjoys the quirks of modern-day Shakespeare even as the Indian theatre scene strives to push its boundaries further and further. Let’s watch and laugh.

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