If anyone ever tries to tell you that Shakespeare’s language renders his work inaccessible, take them to see Mumbai’s The Company Theatre, a group so vibrant and expressive, they pull humour and life out this old comedy, playfully pushing the Bard out of his own equation and gently mocking what’s left.
This adaptation of Twelfth Night makes up just one of the thirty seven deliciously diverse shows in this spring’s Globe to Globeprogramme, nestled alongside other temptations, including a Lithuanian Hamlet, a Cantonese Titus Andronicus and a British Sign Language rendition of Love’s Labour’s Lost. For an audience in England, a lot of the thrill of this festival comes from seeing so many different companies bought together from all of the world to express varying takes on the Bard’s old stories. Another part of the pleasure has its origins in youthful rebellion, from being able to liberate ourselves from the words our English teachers forced us to pick apart with a nit-comb and finally see the plays as true performance pieces.
And so, armed with no more than a handful of brief chapter headings on each side of the stage and led by director Atul Kumar, The Company Theatre has the license to take Shakespeare’s ridiculously implausible comedy in whatever artistic direction it deems appropriate. So enthusiastically and playfully does the company rise to this challenge that language ceases to be a barrier, and the ensemble flirt with the issue of translation, using this quality to great comic effect to mock the situation, the themes of the play and the redundant English playwright.
Yet it would be unfair to attribute the play’s boldness entirely to issues of translation as this highly mobile and thoroughly dynamic adaptation communicates a casual, familiar and strangely localising mood. Immediately, the cast sweeps up the audience, making us feel that whatever surreal situation we may find ourselves in, at least we’re in it together. Such interactions are subtle and involving. Indeed, no matter what you’re mother tongue is, you’d be a fool to miss the meaning behind Maria’s (Trupti Khamkar) sarcastic looks, designed to get the audience on her side. In her transformation from Viola to Cesario, Geetanjali Kulkarni also wove the crowd standing in the yard of the Globe into her own micro-drama, darting mischievous glances and holding eye-contact, as if testing the validity of her gender transformation.
Perhaps more charming, though, were the ad-libbed interactions between the company, the little grins and glances exchanged between actors who, more than anything, acted like they wanted to be there. When not required on centre stage, the actors huddled next to musicians Amod Bhatt and Gagan Singh Bais, beaming at the action with fresh wonder, before springing back up to continue playing their respective parts. The incorporation of dance was also directed with an unquestionable playfulness, which injected yet more life into the work alongside a definite degree of irony, showing that nothing was free from the director’s comic observations.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is not convincing, and nor is it meant to be. This production and its excellent cast embrace this fact, sweeping all of the play’s unlikely moments into the comedy. Here, the company may be liberated from language, but they are still tied to the plot, but they take up this restriction with the kind of enthusiastic, comedic reluctance that can only add to the adaptation’s charm. The scene where the identical, yet opposite gendered, twins are reunited is a brilliantly refreshing example of this gentle mockery as Viola and Sebastian (Amitosh Nagpal) approach each other in teasing slow-motion, mirroring each other’s actions with flawless timing. Moments such as this sprinkle humour onto the implausibility of Shakespeare’s work.
Saurabh Nayyar as MalvolioInevitably, a number of jokes were lost to the member of the audience who didn’t speak Hindi. Significantly less was left to the imagination as Saurabh Nayyar’s Malvolio appeared on stage in yellow tights in his misinformed attempt to win over Olivia. This, perhaps the most memorable moment in Shakespeare’s play, was the flattest moment in Kumar’s adaptation. Handsome and far too suave, Nayyar did not echo the humorous arrogance of Sagar Deshmukh’s Orsino, and so seemed to be an uncomfortable casting choice for this obnoxious servant. The effect of this inappropriate decision was only heightened as the lonely Malvolio joined the line of couples at the end of the production, only to face a number of enthusiastic proposals from the audience.
You could say a lot about Twelfth Night—maybe it’s an exploration of class, an interrogation of fate or an ode to love. However, to read too much into these interpretations would be to miss the point. There’s nothing too worthy in this tale of muddled up siblings, cross-dressing, clowning around and unlikely marriage. Refreshingly, with their silly humour, carefree dancing and brilliant colour, this ensemble acknowledge the play’s light-hearted status and deliver a bold powerfully casual piece that is, more than anything, just a whole lot of fun. ✑
First published at filmimpressions.com/