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Your cheat sheet to the Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival

Rajat Kapoor’s Festival rolls into the city. But what if you’ve never read the bard and only briefly know the plays? Here’s how to sound smart even if you’ve lost the plot

art and culture Updated: Mar 18, 2017 08:19 IST
Rachel Lopez
Joy Fernandes is a clown, but is he really the comic relief? Find out as Rajat Kapoor’s adatations of Shakespeare plays hit the stage.
Joy Fernandes is a clown, but is he really the comic relief? Find out as Rajat Kapoor’s adatations of Shakespeare plays hit the stage.

Rajat Kapoor’s Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival rolls into the city. But what if you’ve never read the bard and only briefly know the plays? Here’s how to sound smart even if you’ve lost the plot

At the outset: Heave a sigh of relief

Because it’s finally here. The Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival, which consists of four plays, opened in January in Pune and will travel to seven cities before it makes its final stop in Delhi next month.

Say: “Shakespeare’s comedies are so underrated”

Because, of course, everyone talks about the playwright’s tragedies: Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth. But keep in mind that the festival doesn’t perform Shakespeare’s comedies either. The four plays have been written and directed by actor Rajat Kapoor, and they turn the not-quite-comedy into comedy. Everyone’s a clown, a good portion of the dialogue has contemporary references, and no one’s delivering monologues in tights.

The plays are pieces of devised theatre, says Puja Sarup, who plays Getrude, and Bozo, a fading diva nursing both the bottle and a broken heart, in Hamlet – the Clown Prince. Scripts are developed in workshops. “Actors discover their characters in rehearsal,” she says. “We basically tell Rajat, let’s kill that play,” says actor Vinay Pathak, who has roles in all four productions.

They’re all clowns, but they do much more than clown around. At the Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival, they take the bard’s stories to places ordinary characters cannot.

Don’t say: “But so much of Shakespeare is about the language.”

Because public love for the plays has changed. You know those English Lit types who reel off quotes by heart? They’ve been replaced by fans of modern-day adaptations of the 400-year-old stories. Kapoor himself felt intimidated by the language initially. He only came around to the bard after he translated Taming of the Shrew into Hindi in 1994. “I think it’s exciting that we can move from gibberish to Shakespeare’s lines and back to gibberish without losing the wonderful quality of the plays,” Kapoor says.Shakespeare’s themes, motivations, and moral dilemmas have endured, even if lines like “if my love thou holdest at aught” haven’t.

Read: Will Rajat Kapoor take his Shakespeare adaptations to the screen?

Point out: That the fool is actually a pretty important recurring character.

Because in Kapoor’s version, the clowns are funny, foolish even. But they’re certainly not dumb. They’ll twist the plot, step out of the play to address the audience, but still manage to tell their story.

If one character in What Is Done, Is Done (an adaptation of Macbeth) is called Macky B and another calls people Puta Madre, remember they’re not quoting but honouring the spirit of the original script. “There’s a kind of purity in playing a Shakespeare character as a clown,” says Pathak. “Our faces are painted on, much of the expression comes from the body. Plus, clowns can do anything, even steal Lady Macbeth’s lines.”

In Hamlet - The Clown Prince, the clowns speak gibberish, switch to the original text and back to nonsense, without ever losing their grip on the spirit of the play.

Argue: That comedy is not a clown’s only job.

In Kapoor’s Macbeth, the clowns are dark, often scary. Some (like in the King Lear adaptation Nothing Like Lear) are crotchety.“Yet our Lear often makes audiences cry,” Kapoor says. In ...The Clown Prince, they’re all struggling to understand the play, talking gibberish and making it up as they go. I Don’t Like It, As You Like It gets male and female clowns to switch parts, but the mix-up isn’t just for laughs. It’s to examine gender roles today.

Read: Meanwhile, the original clown Hamlet takes Shakespeare in a new direction, with dance

Remark: That Shakespeare was both ahead of his time and restricted by it

Because so few of his most memorable characters are women. Sure, there’s Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Portia – but none gets a solo title role or a killer soliloquy. Many argue that the Shakespeare tradition holds back actresses – an overwhelming number of Hollywood’s Royal Shakespeare Company alumni are men. Shakespeare wrote at a time when women’s parts were played by men, it’s probably why he limited their stage time. That’s where clowning scores. “I don’t need a soliloquy,” says Sarup. “With the clowns, it’s almost like diving into the story and pulling out a magic trick.”

In the clown version of Macbeth, the Scottish king is called Macky B. The clowns themselves are dark and scary.

End with: “I’m trying to understand Shakespeare”

Because 400 years after the plays were written, so is everybody, including Rajat Kapoor. Sarup recalls that the Clown Prince team visited Shakespeare’s grave on a tour of the UK. “We did a little thank you and sorry if we’ve offended you’,” she says. “I think we cracked a deal with him.”

Do clowns tickle your fancy? Find out here:

What: Shakespeare Comedy Festival

Where: St Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra (W)

When: I Don’t Like It - As You Like It (Saturday, 4 pm); Nothing Like Lear (Saturday, 7.30 pm); Hamlet - The Clown Prince (Sunday, 6 pm); Macbeth - What Is Done, Is Done (Sunday, 9 pm)

Tickets cost upwards of Rs 300 per show. Available at the venue or on BookMyShow.com