Reinterpreting the Bard – The Company Theatre
Delhi witnessed Shakespeare in a different light this month when The Company Theatre from Mumbai performed Hamlet and King Lear in a way rarely seen. Funny, hysterical, tragic – they were everything an audience could have asked for from a Shakespearean play.
Hamlet – The Clown Prince, with a star cast comprising of versatile actors from the theater and film circuit like Vinay Pathak, Neil Bhoopalam, Sujay Saple and stars like Kalki Koechlin played out as clowns, not only set the audience in splits, but also managed to send out the meaning of this sublime tragedy of Shakespeare subtly. The Rajat Kapoor directed adaptation of Hamlet, performed on the 13th, 14th and 15th of this month at the mecca of arts and theatre in Delhi – the Kamani Auditorium at the Mandi House – had full houses with theatre enthusiasts pouring in from all over the city.
Hamlet’s a play we’ve read, heard and watched in innumerable possible shades time and again. So what exactly was so special about this rendition? Well, the charm lay in the absurdity of a bunch of clowns spewing a cocktail of Italian and French and English gibberish, trying to dig deeper to interpret the narrative, often seemingly lost in these philosophical efforts. But it was this mad-house setting that shaped up the funny moments of this play, stealthily contradicting the Bard’s original text.
Atul Kumar, the director of The Company Theatre contended that tragedies when dealt in a comical way often throw up sides to the word of the text that we are oblivious to when dealt with as a tragedy.
On probing what made them transform this play into a comedy, Atul Kumar, the director of The Company Theatre contended that tragedies when dealt in a comical way often throw up sides to the word of the text that we are oblivious to when dealt with as a tragedy. He added, that’s exactly what happened when they could underline the tragedy of these two characters (Hamlet and King Lear) in a new light through the comic route. Thoughts seemed to cross his mind rather skeptically when thinking of bringing more experimental pieces to the city than just commercially successful ones, as that may mean an assured loss of audience for them in Delhi. All said and done, he finds Delhi’s theatre culture to be pretty vibrant, challenging and inspiring with its many theatre groups, quality work, and diverse and receptive audiences.
The young and vibrant Kalki Koechlin, whom we’ve adored in films like Dev D, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani was in total awe of the city’s theatre culture, the India Habitat Centre and the Epicentre auditoriums being her personal favorites when it came to performance venues. Educated in theatre and drama from the UK, with many performances there under her belt, she feels there’s a much wider scope of theatre abroad as compared to India with better infrastructure and much more choices in terms of production value. Theatre in India has still a long way to go. Kalki, apart form being occupied with Hamlet, where she plays Ophelia with a charm to kill for, can also be seen performing in a production called Colour Blind by Manav Kaul. She has plans to start off shortly with one of her own directorial debuts. Now, that’s enough for most theatre enthusiasts to look forward to the production!
Namit Dass , another face we’ve seen on the silver screen in films such as Wake Up Sid, played a prominent part in Hamlet, essaying the role of Nemo as one of the clowns. Brilliant in his singing, he brought the flavour of operatic singing in the play along with co-actor Puja Sarup, who was equally brilliant with her dialogues as well as singing.
This is the most redundant question ever and we should stop asking it. A million theatre groups are surviving and yet there is no money in it. It’s not a profession, it’s not an industry, it’s not supported by the government or privately like it is in some countries abroad, and yet you have a million mad people like me still doing theatre and live performances- so there is the answer. It is not [dead] and cannot die ever.
Sujay Saple might not be one of the more famous ones of the lot, but he definitely is a talent house, holding up the aces, having immersed himself full time into theatre in multiple capacities for almost 12 years now. From handling the lights to sporting the director’s cap, from slipping into an actor’s shoes to making them dance to his tune as a choreographer, he’s done it all. He very eloquently professed his love for the audience here in Delhi, not forgetting to mention the healthy appetite of Delhiites for humor, subtly hinting at the loud Punjabi humour prevalent in the city. After playing the ring master Popo in Hamlet, he plays the ring master in real with his recent production called Moonfool.
Apart from Hamlet, The Company Theatre also performed Shakespeare’s King Lear with both Atul Kumar and Vinay Pathak essaying out the role of Lear sharing a show each. Nothing Like Lear, as it was titled, again a Rajat Kapoor conceptualized venture, dealt with the reminisce of a father and his relationship with his daughter in a modern day setting. A play, which could have rather been boring and preachy, turns out to be an extravagant journey of King Lear, for the lead actors’ captivating performance(s) and well, the director’s unblemished thought behind it. Again using the technique of clowning as a means to overcome the tragic sequences of the original play, it brought a new dimension to a rather agonizing script.
Atul Kumar finds theatre in India a thriving involvement. According to him, “This is the most redundant question ever and we should stop asking it. A million theatre groups are surviving and yet there is no money in it. It’s not a profession, it’s not an industry, it’s not supported by the government or privately like it is in some countries abroad, and yet you have a million mad people like me still doing theatre and live performances- so there is the answer. It is not (dead) and cannot die ever”. The Company Theatre was once again in town in the last weekend of November with its another internationally acclaimed META-winning hit show Piya Behrupiya, based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. But let’s discuss that some other time.
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