‘What is Done is Done!’ is an interesting darkly humorous reimagining of ‘Macbeth’

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What is Done is Done! is only the second Shakespearean adaptation with clowns (director – Rajat Kapoor) that I have had the pleasure to watch – the first being Nothing Like Lear. Shakespeare has been around for a really long time, alive in text books, movie adaptations, references both literary and popular, in fact he has seeped into our lives with the subtlety of everyday speech, which, unsurprisingly, owes a lot to the Bard. But such familiarity does not make it easy to shed any new light on Shakespeare’s plays. And it is precisely on this note that the play begins.

Two clowns (Vinay Pathak and Jim Sarbh) enter the stage and recount how they came to be the producers of this production within a production. The anecdote involves two instances of Rajat Kapoor being kicked in the arse (not my words) – first by the Royal Shakespeare Society that did not quite warm up to the idea of clowning with a great tragedy like Macbeth and instead of appropriating funds for the play, contributed the aforementioned grant; and second by circus authorities that found Kapoor’s reading of the play not very deep (again, not my words). It is easy to adapt a play as popular as Macbeth, one of the two clowns observes; the audience laughs, hopefully, knowing that it is just the opposite. Adapting any play by Shakespeare is a big burden on the playwright and the director. How do you add a new perspective to it? How do you do justice to the themes of the play by reimagining it? How do you squeeze in references to our times without distracting the audience from the main plot?  What is Done is Done! mostly succeeds at these, but it does not truly matches the balance that it achieved with the marriage of the themes of the text and the times we live in in Nothing Like Lear.

The jokes, mostly in parts where the two clown-producers have a go at the audience, felt a bit familiar, even though a few quips about certain recent developments were genuinely funny. These comic interludes (a highly inappropriate term to be used for a play that weaves in and out of the funny, the tragic and the downright scary almost seamlessly, but for these interludes)  seemed like scenes of comic relief that were confused if they belonged to Shakespeare or Marlowe (the latter’s are quite crudely woven into the plot).

I liked that these scenes acted like a chorus, bridging the gap between the play’s themes and situations of our times and asking certain questions. But what I did not like was they tried to answer these, at times quite obviously.

However, the play shone the brightest at the moments of its tragic intensity and because of its darkly humorous tone. Ranvir Shorey delivered a very nuanced performance as Macky B (Macbeth), switching his comic garb for his tragic ones and vice versa, without much effort. The rest of the cast were also up to the task and gave highly convincing performances.

There were certain parts/elements in the play that I really enjoyed. One where the entire cast poses together for a photograph and says ‘anachronism’ instead of ‘cheese’. One cannot but gleefully recall the most famous anachronism in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – of the clock striking 3. The use of three actors (who also played the three witches) to play Lady Macbeth at the same time, something I do not know (I would not count on my limited knowledge though) if it ever has been done, was very interesting keeping in mind the emotional disintegration she ungoes later in the play. The dagger scene. The cinematic murder-ambush-torture scenes (one is even in slow-mo). How certain scenes/actions were used to foreshadow events in the future. Macbeth-Banquo-Macbeth-Lady Macbeth scenes.

I would recommened this play to everyone who enjoy good theatre. Catch it the next time the troupe comes to your city.

 

 

Nothing Like Lear -Review

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Image Courtesy – Madhurima Dutta

Nothing Like Lear is for all intents and purposes both like and unlike King Lear. But of course I was not to find this out until the one man troupe, Vinay Pathak, grabbed me by my ‘guts’.

It was the 27th of November, a Sunday, and we – me and two of my companions – had got ourselves tickets for balcony, which was lighter on our pockets, at Kamani Audotorium on Copernicus Marg, New Delhi; but as one of my companions pointed out, it would have had marred the experience, for she had not brought her glasses with her. Call it our sheer luck or the bane of demonitisation or the lack of love for good theatre, not many people turned up for the play; so we were, by default, offered seats at the side stalls towards the front.

Minutes into the play, and I realised that perhaps my companion was right, that we all must have missed quite a bit of the aura that Mr Pathak just “zapped” into the moment he, albeit quite inconspicuously, arrived on the stage.

“The show hasn’t started yet,” he reassured the audience, who were caught off guard by his sudden appearance on the stage. He shambled across the stage in a large pair of clown shoes and carrying a suitcase, making light talk with the audience and giving suggestions as to things they could do before the play actually started, like “Send that last SMS,” or “You should always carry a book to the theatre.” I could already feel a player warming up before hijacking the entire game. And that’s exactly what Mr Pathak did; his jokes became bolder and bawdier (mostly at the audience’s expense), once the audience was lulled into a sense of enjoying innocuous quips, and very subtly “commenced” the play.

Once into the meat of the play, I started to look for strands that would somehow connect the string of jokes to the bard’s original that this play, even as its title denounces any resemblance, is supposedly based on. For in its deliberate negation there is an acceptance, an idebtedness to Shakespeare’s play – upon seeing the “Nothing” in the title, one is inadvertently reminded of the famous line from King Lear, “Nothing will come of nothing.” And this is where the likeness to King Lear begins.

Even though this was a one man show and largely comic, the themes of Shakespeare’s play found their way into this absurdist interpretation. Besides a tragic undercurrent forever ran through the surface of the play, and it frequently burst out with such force and vitality that it left the audience, well at least me, with goosebumps. Handling such sudden shifts in tone, and that too for nearly 90 minutes, is a daunting task, but such is the talent of Mr Pathak that he makes this look like a walk in the park, except for moments when I thought I heard him drop the character’s prescribed accent. But this is hardly a blemish on a performance so magnificent that the entire audience accorded him a well-deserved standing ovation at the end, for a good 5 minutes!

Here, I must admit that even though Mr Pathak is the one who carries the play on his reliable shoulders, jumping from one shade of character to another with a frenzy associated with dissociative disorders, Mr Rajat Kapoor, the play’s writer and director, is equally deserving of every bit of praise for infusing the sense of dissociation of tonality into the play itself. It is the genius of Mr Kapoor that we get to see King Lear through the eyes of a fool (clown), who embodies the persona of the narrator (apparently an unreliable one), Edmund, Gloucester, King Lear and, of course, the Fool, while also being a contemporary social commentary on the way we treat the old. The major themes of King Lear – filial ingratitude, sight and blindness, jealousy, existentialism, father-child relationship – are all addressed with due reverence to Shakespeare’s play.

Even though I am a fan of Rajat Kapoor, I had not expected to be surprised by Nothing Like Lear. But it did.  It was like watching Mr Kapoor’s Mithya, a gem of a movie, which I consider as the best example of a genre-hopper from Hindi Cinema. Both the works are unpredictable to the truest sense of the term and both of them delve deeply in existentialist philosophy (besides this play too can be seen as a genre-hopper, but I am unsure whether this term could be applied to plays as well). And when I finally got the chance to meet Mr Kapoor, who was humbly standing outside the theatre greeting the audience, I could not help telling him how much I loved Mithya; to which he gave a nod of approval and allowed a hint of surprise to flash across his otherwise calm face.

[If this play comes to your city, please do yourself a favour – watch it!]