Theatre Review: I Don’t Like It. As You Like It
Clowns step out of their customary domain — they are most often seen in circuses — and into a darkened theatre, to hold centre stage in Cinematograph’s I Don’t Like It. As You Like It, a modern-day recreation of the Bard’s popular comedy, As You Like It. Incidentally, this is the first of the five new plays from five production houses under the auspices of the Aadyam initiative by the Aditya Birla Group, which is in its second year.
Like with Hamlet, the Clown Prince, What is Done Is Done and Nothing Like Lear, director-writer Rajat Kapoor takes the essence of William Shakespeare’s classic and comes up with an original drama that initially does confuse the uninitiated, even as it provokes thought and laughter.
Believing in telling stories his own way, Kapoor creates a highly innovative plot, peopled entirely by clowns. Words, expressions and moments are enhanced on a stage with minimalistic props. The 100-minute-plus production — with no interval — is filled with contemporary language, and the clowns tell their own tales that are in turn coloured by their personalities.
‘All the world’s a stage’: the play starts with these memorable words — and what ensues is a lot of hilarity, with the lead players trying to salvage a sinking dramatic troupe! As the performers run through their lines, their relationships unfold — revealing often love-hate angles. Mimi and Coco, Fido and Fifi, Soso and his hand puppet Toto and the new entrant, the French clown Gigi, all play out their insecurities in individual ways. In this melange of performers is the director Popo, who chooses to enact a new production (the ‘play within a play’ concept is given a new dimension), complicating matters by switching the genders. For, his choice is As You Like It, a comedy which ‘is just two laughs and a death away from being a tragedy’.
Although it takes a few minutes to slip into the pace of the act and get one’s dramatic bearings — especially if you haven’t seen a clown performance before — once drawn into Kapoor’s stage rendition, you are captivated by the contribution of each actor and the nuances of the spoken words. And the cast — Vinay Pathak, Cyrus Sahukar, Faeza Jalali, Shruti Vyas, Aadar Malik, Rytasha Rathore and Joy Fernandez — clown their way into the audience’s hearts.
“It’s very simple: I am attracted to Shakespeare’s texts, but I’d hate to do it in a conventional style. So, one is always looking for a way to contextualise the material. These texts still resonate with us. The characters he created and the depths to which he explored human emotions and frailties have not been surpassed. That is the pull for me. But then to explore these emotions, I need to go through my own existence as someone in the 21st century — and find new meanings, so that the production becomes a shared experience for the audience and they can draw their own meaning from it. And clowns come in handy in rewriting the text for today.”