24 March, 2013
Staging a comedy is a genuinely tall order and when it happens to be written by William Shakespeare it becomes a hundred times as difficult. The world has read the great Bard over the centuries and knows his work inside out. Comedies have another issue ...its sustenance value, across the length of a performance and in a comic play right across its enactment. A minor slip up and it can degenerate into slapstick, a farce loose its fizz , fall flat or in its worse case...a tragedy. This is the tight rope a writer and director has to walk with their acting ensemble after they put together one.
Twelfth Night or What You Will is one of the great bard’s most popular comedies and the writer Amitosh Nagpal who also plays Sebastian in the play brings it to us in the form of folk theatre, the nautanki and in Hindi. He and director Atul Kumar of “The Company Theatre” gives it a twist and bring forth all the elements of a nautanki,the folksy singing and the narrative and fun in such a crisp manner that one can’t help but marvel at the dexterity with which this play has been handled.
Without much ado (it’s natural to become Shakespearan , when writing about his plays)the actors plunge right into the plot on the kingdom of Illiriya. Nagpal retains original names of the central characters thus giving the audience a sense of continuity of not having disturbed the play. ‘Fans’ is but a shorter version of the word ‘Fanatics’, and the bard certainly has his hard core loyalists who under no circumstances can be alienated.
Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) & Sebastian are twins, sister and brother, who are separated in a shipwreck each presuming the other dead. Viola lands in Illiriya and masquerades as a gent Cesario in the services of the Duke Orsino ( Sagar Deshmukh) an falls in love with the Duke. Orsino on his part is in love with the Lady Olivia ( Manasi Multani) who is in a seven year mourning for her brother who has died. She has her entourage around her, a steward Malvolio ( Saurabh Nayyar) her uncle Sir Toby ( Gagan Rial, absolutely superb ). Orsino sends Cesario with his message of love and instructs him not to be back till it is delivered to Olivia. The Lady Olivia is charmed by Cesario and falls in love with him and therein begins the momentum of the play which just takes off in all directions. Each character brings in his own mischief, his own desire and its own energy making this a rollicking journey. There are other characters like the fool Feste given the name Phoolsingh played by Neha Saraf who has the best lines but more so is her voice which soars over her diminutive self and she has such a delicious sense of the stage, she just grabs eyeballs with her song and dance and tomfoolery. The simple rejected suitor Sir Andrew is played by the RJ Mantra who does a credible job.
Despite the change in language the grammar and the idiom of a nautanki works for this play so well it’s amazing to have conceptualized and executed this.The Soul of the original is intact. The play is a musical and the leads have passable singing voices but maintain the tenor, tempo and mood in the musical renditions very well. Manasi Multani plays an Olivia who has an accent of a Punjabi Aunty and her comic timing is delicious so is her voice which reaches and maintains a high note wonderfully. The stand out performance apart from Neha Saraf is that of Gagan Rial playing Sir Toby as the perpetual drunk, his is an act of rare balance and he doesn’t falter. He is ably supported by Trupti Khamkar who plays the feisty maid Maria. Geetanjali Kulkarni as Viola has the most strenuous of parts and she is glorious in the lead. She looks a tad elder but matches well to Deshmukhs Orsino. Saurabh Nayyar's Malvolio has his hilarious moment when he is fooled into wearing tights and the occassional moment when he reverts to accented English. The shortest part in the play is Sebastian’s played by Amitosh Nagpal who has an electric stage presence and in his short appearances attracts the most laughter. The musical quartet led by Amod Bhatt – Harmonium, Rahul Sharma-Percussion, Rachel D’souza and Trisha Kale are splendid, it helps that they are good looking too as they are on the stage all the time in their live musical background role.
The viewer is grabbed on three separate fronts in this play...The stage which is divided into foreground where the main act is rendered, the background where the characters retire to after their part in the foreground. Here too it is not static but a support interlude happening which adds to the performance and raises it to another level and the musicians who are the dividing line. There are times when every single one is in the foreground in a quawwali which is hilarious.
Hats off to The Theatre Company for pulling off the Twelfth night in such a style that had the bard himself watched this version he too would have been in splits.