Pick of the Week: The Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival

When clowns meet the Bard


‘Hamlet—The Clown Prince’.
‘Hamlet—The Clown Prince’.

Can you imagine a bunch of clowns interpreting and enacting William Shakespeare’s plays? Rajat Kapoor could. Over the years, the actor-director has adapted four of the Bard’s most celebrated dramas—MacbethKing LearHamlet and As You Like It—for the stage using clowning as a theatrical expression. 

These four adaptations are being staged now as part of the Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival, which opened on 21 January in Pune and is travelling to cities such as Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Jaipur. It will conclude in Delhi in April.

It wasn’t love at first read for Kapoor, as many might assume. “My initial relationship with Shakespeare was that of fear. Like many Indians, I looked at him with fear because of his language,” he says. That equation changed when Kapoor translated Taming Of The Shrew into Hindi for the stage in 1995. “I have never really read Shakespeare. It is only through my plays that I’m discovering him,” he says. 

Rajat Kapoor.
Rajat Kapoor.

How do the Bard’s classics fit with clowning? “Clowning provides a nice metaphor for the actors. They (clowns) take you away from the text, while still commenting on it. They can stop in the middle and say, ‘Why is Macbeth doing this? Is he mad?’,” says Kapoor, who believes the festival should be called the Shakespeare Clown Theatre Festival, instead of Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival, because “comedy is just one of the many emotions explored in these adaptations”. 

Take Nothing Like Lear, for instance. An adaptation of King Lear, it is a monologue by an old clown (played by Vinay Pathak) who is going through a rough patch. “We completely did away with the plot and instead focused on themes of old age, the daughter-father relationship, and betrayal. In my head there was an image of a middle-class Maharashtrian man going to meet his daughter. That was the central image we worked from. So if you watch the play, it has everything from King Lear and yet it’s nothing like Lear,” says Kapoor.

The thing about Shakespeare is that “he wrote his plays 400 years ago, but there’s both relevance and resonance in them. We transform them in today’s context but the essence remains the same”.

Hamlet—The Clown Prince, which swept most of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) in 2009, is a prime example. The cast includes Pathak, Kalki Koechlin and Puja Sarup and the adaptation shows them putting up a parody of Hamlet—dressed as clowns; they sometimes misinterpret the text, sometimes try and understand it, often making a mess of it. “Through all this, all they are simply looking for is the essence of Hamlet, and trying to find a context in our own times,” says the director.

In What Is Done, Is Done (an adaptation of Macbeth), the clowns turn darker and cynical in nature, while I Don’t Like It. As You Like It offers a contemporary twist to themes of power and guilt in the pastoral comedy As You Like It.

The Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival—2017 is travelling to Hyderabad (11-12 February), Chandigarh (19 February), Bengaluru (4-5 March), Ahmedabad (12 March), Mumbai (18-19 March), Kolkata (25-26 March), Chennai (1-2 April), Jaipur (8-9 April) and Delhi (15-16 April). For tickets, venues and other details, visit in.bookmyshow.com 

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