As part of The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Shakespeare’s Globe presents an international season of 37 plays in 37 languages, including Twelfth Night, which was recently performed in Hindi by The Company Theatre from Mumbai
Storms reminiscent of an Indian monsoon, a dark and heavy skyline fit for a Shakespearean tragedy, and The Globe Theatre packed to the brim welcomed Duke Orsino on the stage as he set the scene for Twelfth Night. Yet this grim setting was very quickly forgotten as The Company Theatre from Mumbai sprung into the performance for the recent and highly acclaimed Globe to Globe series.
Translated into Modern Hindi and with added musicality, the stage was brought alive with song, dance, and infectious emotion. Instilled in the air is a sense of intrigue and excitement as the audience enters to face a stage set in a fashion reminiscent of classical Indian theatre. Laid out on the floor are traditional Indian instruments including the tabla and dhool, as well as vividly coloured mats and cushions for the actors and musicians. This bright collection is bordered with vibrant flowered chains creating an immediate disjunction to the rest of the stage. This colour pervades throughout all aspects of the production, from Lady Olivia’s vivid pink salwaar kameez to Duke Orsino’s deep red long coat. However, it seems artistic director Atul Kumar has taken Orsino’s opening lines to heart as it is most certainly the music in this production that brings the array of emotions to life.
Although categorised as a comedy, a wealth of sentiments weave in and out of the play, all of which are seamlessly performed through this fluid musical production. There are a handful of catchy drunken-gathering tunes and victory dances sung by the hapless duo of Uncle Toby and Sir Andrew as well as the housemaid, Maria. This, of course, is entwined with the essential input of the Clown Feste who eagerly responds to their requests of ‘romantic’ or ‘Sufi’ songs fit for the mood. Yet, Lady Olivia has the strongest and most traditional voice of all and she emphasises the fact that music truly does nourish love. She depicts the majority of her emotions in song including mourning her brother’s death, and lamenting her unrequited love for a cross-dressed Cesario. These songs do not jar with the play and the music is not separate from the acting, instead they become an essentiality. In addition, the numerous non-Hindi speaking members of the crowd would easily recognise the joy or sorrow in ensembles. In fact, the actors had the crowd cheering to, or swaying along with, much of the music on stage.
For non-Hindi speakers of the audience, there are frequent English interjections added for humorous effect, but also assisting comprehension. There are also two electronic boards which briefly outline the events of each scene in three lines or so, rather than displaying word for word translations. This limited paraphrasing works well as this performance of Twelfth Night is not directly translated from Shakespeare’s version. Instead the storyline is adopted and the rhymes adapted to reflect the vibrancy of Hindi and its dialects.
Each of the nine actors is always on stage behind three musicians, watching them and occasionally adding their own input. In this manner, no one character dominates as each role is strong and distinct in its own way. This occurs to the extent that the audience is even drawn towards Sebastian, who points out himself that he only has four lines in the play. However, here Sebastian also plays the role of narrator and even cheekily informs the audience that he is, in fact, the translator of the play, resulting in a hearty applause from the audience. It is these slight variations that remove the performance from simply being a subtitled copy of the original, to a production in its own right. In this way, The Company Theatre has dotted key nuances throughout the play, including a hint of gender re-allocation by casting a woman as Feste the clown, thus revering the tradition of all-male productions.
As the actors end on a medley of the songs performed throughout the play, what resonates is the humour. Shakespeare’s version was infused with comedy, and The Company Theatre has channelled this ‘carnival-esque’ humour into its performance, renewing it and adding to its relevance.
The Globe to Globe series thus brings together and gives a common platform to a variety of Shakespearean adaptations already taking place. The Company Theatre itself has already performed adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III. In a similar manner, many of the theatre companies invited to participate in this series have already performed something comparable elsewhere. Yet, by centralising this cross-cultural exchange and lending these productions the same forum that is London’s Globe Theatre, this series is providing an even greater platform to Shakespeare himself. Furthermore, by staging the event alongside the Olympics Festival and setting it in a truly global city, iconic English literature is being presented and embraced by people who may not usually choose to watch the same play in Shakespearean English – a feat which I would say is worthy of a standing ovation.
The weather did not deter the visitors from attending this performance of Twelfth Night, and judging by the play’s success and the enjoyment of even those standing in the yard experiencing the full-scale downpour, it shouldn’t dissuade audiences from future performances either. This series is an encompassing and unique event which should be made the most of while it is here, even to excess, and so in Orsino’s words: ‘If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it.’
Photo Credits: Simon Annand
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