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Dr. Namrata Pathak
Date of Publish: 2017-12-16


Driving the Ghost Away: Shakespeare in London and Guwahati


To chance upon a play in Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London has been the most delightful experience of a theatre enthusiast like me. Infact this brush with Shakespeare can be termed as one of my secretly nurtured desires, a desire that grows and expands, both in girth and proportion, with each new day. It is a desire that turns real. As an academic, it is more of fate than a strong voluntary decision that Shakespeare sits cross-legged on my table, stacked next to Neruda and Marquez, smirking, untouched by the seasonal vagaries--- the winter chills, shards of monsoon rain, and even the sweaty summer sun. It seems this quintessential bard laughs at the cycles of season. As the weather takes turns and surprises me with its erratic betrayals, Shakespeare’s presence on my mahogany table remains steadfast, not to mention his God-like demeanor that overpowers me day and night. He dwells in my head. My obsession springs forth from this. No matter how long drawn it sounds, there comes a day when spicing up a romantic downpour with a titillating cup of masala tea and crisp potato pakoras or dabbling in any simple pleasure of my life (it also includes wrapping myself up in my mother’s South Indian silk saris) needs an approval from his side. And yes, I have not lost my mind.

You speak of Shakespeare and surprisingly, the signs and premonitions, hints and references, poems and allusions, they take you to him---he tightens his grip on you with each validation in the classroom and there surfaces this urge to watch a performance that is radically captivating, novel or experimental, a performance that kills him, cancels him, and negates him---call it the death of the author! This upsurge to exorcise the ghost of Shakespeare, it got its fodder in two performances that I happened to watch this year, Romeo and Juliet by Daniel Kramer that was staged at Globe in London and What’s Done is Done by Rajat Kapoor, an adaptation of Macbeth, that was a part of Guwahati Theatre Festival in November.

Fuelled by this spiraling desire to encounter Shakespeare and thus to face the enormity of this persona one-to-one, I decided to bask in the architectural legacy of Stratford-upon-Avon, Southwark and Bankside in London. Partly my academic trip to Imperial College, London, in May is an offshoot of this desire. At Globe my joy knows no bound when Daniel Kramer comes up with the director's introductory note. For Kramer, love is an anarchic state. It triggers violence. He gives a new twist to Shakespeare by localizing him. This re-contextualization leads to an altogether different avatar of Romeo and Juliet. Kramer is a vital part of the artistic team at English National Opera and indeed the performance is carved out of music, coated with music, and woven to music. Violent screech and scream blend with a somber tone to create a warlike rhythm. Programmed slogans and mechanical postures of the characters create a space steeped in a numb, deadly melody. The “artificial” enters the “natural” orders of things. The “machine” controls and wrecks havoc on the stage. The performance space is infested with deadpan silence and also, there is an overt utilisation of sound--- infact Kramer strikes a balance between both. There is a spillover on the stage as it fails to hold music to the brim. It overflows and knocks you down. A drummer at the upper wing is shown to create music. He instantly catches the public eye. Weapons of destruction---a pistol, rifle, dagger, and even love potion and a bottle of poison invade the scenes. There is an extensive use of medical resources----we have people on wheelchairs, stretchers and operation tables. It is a death-haunted play and you come across characters that are clad in either white or black. Occasionally Kramer overlaps scenes. An agonised Romeo is shown on one side and there is Juliet weighing the political judgment of Romeo’s banishment on the other side. Simultaneous actions make the scenes densely layered. Romeo’s self-torturing despair ensnares all. This finds an expression in the black-robed figures sitting on catafalques clutching miniature coffins. The Capulets’ ball is shown as an animalistic fancy-dress party.

In a theatre space the body of a performer is well-equipped to inhabit and demonstrate its affiliations though a range of activities. The actor’s body interacts with the world around it. Thus, within a configured theatre space, the body of a performer represents the increasing diversity and changing cultural landscapes of a society. Also, certain points of resistance can totally reshape the body in new dynamics because at every moment the experiential self is lived differently, both culturally and historically. On the stage Romeo’s codified postures are repeated schematically and methodically. Romeo’s body is stratified with the ethos of the present time. When he hides at the back of a fat man in the audience, he breaks the line of division between the audience and actor. The body of the performer is ‘multi-sited’---Romeo evaluates the political praxis of the human agency. The play successfully shows the problem of circumscribing a hybrid re-constructed identity.

What’s Done is Done makes a robust retelling of William Shakespeare, but it is a jocular recast rather, and needless to say, it is phenomenally subversive. It foregrounds the jokers’ points and counterpoints, takes you to a sinister world of dark humor and pungent comedy. It is staged in the Guwahati Theatre Festival, an event that is organized by the weekly tabloid, G Plus, in association with Apollo Hospitals. There is something uncanny about the play---be it the interplay of light and darkness, the riveting warnings of the three witches, the painted faces of the prominent figures or the clownish rendering of an otherwise sober tragedy, it turns the tables on your face. Incidentally, the jokes bear a serious jab and the serious projections beget a hilarious, resounding applause from the audience---after all, foul is fair and fair is foul! This is Kapoor’s “upside down” Macbeth, a play that overlaps genres, mixes strange ingredients up in a witches’ cauldron. The diversity brewing up in the witch’s cauldron keeps us hooked to it---we have a thick accent of Banquo and Macky B; a heavy dose of banter and tomfoolery; talks harboring on GPS and mobile phones; and a heady socio-political satire that cuts across time. Kapoor digs at the digit, “three”--- how Lady Macbeth is split into three personalities (we can draw a parallel with the three witches here) reminds us of a resemblance that one cannot miss.

What’s Done is Done is not Kapoor’s first tryst with Shakespeare. His other noteworthy productions are--- I Don’t Like it. As You Like it, Nothing like Lear, Hamlet-the Clown Prince, to name a few. Regarding the overwhelming number of clowns that populate his productions, Kapoor opines in an interview with The Telegraph, “I did a play called C For Clown in 1999. That was my first interaction in a clown format. Then I discovered something very special — that through clowns you can directly go to the essence of something. A clown gives you a kind of purity, which is very liberating”. Maybe that’s why Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey in What’s Done is Done still linger there somewhere--- they rip the mask apart and show you the true facet of life---you witness all, the gory realities, deep cleavages and contours. At the end a sense of grand appeasement washes over you. This production of Kapoor, for me, is a gastronomic delight. With an unmatched hunger I filled myself up, my head, my heart, with it--- it is akin to eating your preferred pie, I ate it whole--- the crumbs, crust, and cream!

Now I no longer wrestle with Shakespeare, nor do I converse with him. While I go for long walks in the orange-hinted evenings in the hills, with a slanting sky up there and a throbbing heart that lives on a handful of dreams, Shakespeare no longer feasts on me. I have other affiliations nevertheless, but finally the ghost is gone!

Dr. Namrata Pathak

( Dr Namrata Pathak is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. She can be reached at - namratapthk@gmail.com )

All photographs used in this article courtesy - https://www.facebook.com/guwahatitheatrefestival/




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