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Watch King Lear retold through Kathakali, at the Royal Opera House

The performance is divided into nine scenes adapted from the five-act play, with a focus on Lear and his daughters.

mumbai Updated: Dec 08, 2018 17:46 IST
Krutika Behrawala
Krutika Behrawala
Hindustan Times
Shakespeare,King Lear,Kathakali
Kathakali-King Lear
  • WHEN: December 13, 7 pm
  • WHERE: Royal Opera House
  • COST: Tickets are priced between Rs 300 and Rs 800 and are available online

King Lear stands under a spotlight. The ageing monarch is dressed in the ornate headgear and colourful mask of a Kathakali dancer. Over two hours, the audience will watch his tragic descent into madness unfold to the beat of the chenda and maddalam drums.

This unusual marriage of William Shakespeare’s iconic play and the centuries-old Indian dance form is called Kathakali-King Lear.

The production was put together by French director-choreographer Annette Leday and Australian playwright David McRuvie, and premieres in Mumbai at the Royal Opera House on Thursday.

Presented by Avid Learning and Alliance Française de Bombay, the performance is divided into nine scenes adapted from the five-act play, and features 12 Indian Kathakali artistes.

“Kathakali is a powerful performance genre, combining dance, theatre and song. I thought it would be interesting to unite it with Shakespeare’s most powerful play,” says McRuvie, who originally scripted this production in 1989.

In that first run, the play toured France, India, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, among other countries, ending with a series of performances at the Globe Theatre in London.

Shakespeare’s play weaves together two parallel plots — Lear dividing his kingdom among his three daughters and the Earl of Gloucester’s relationship with his two sons. “Since Kathakali uses relatively few characters, we concentrated on the central story of Lear and his daughters. It would not be possible to do this with any other Shakespearean play,” McRuvie says.

Another reason for selecting King Lear, McRuvie adds, is the play’s universal themes. “It’s not an exploration of a particular society, like Hamlet or Othello is. The themes of kingship, marriage, dowry and renunciation of the world are also central to the Kathakali universe.”

This time, the show tours India (Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune) before heading to Théâtre de la Ville in Paris in April.

“The current adaptation is close to the first iteration, except it’s tighter [cut down by 30 minutes],” says Leday, who has studied Kathakali dance-theatre in Kerala. “The team also includes Kathakali artistes who were part of the first production.”

First Published: Dec 08, 2018 17:46 IST