Hell hath no fury like Prince Hamlet scorned? You bet it does! Son against mother, nephew against uncle, lovers at loggerheads and man against the world sums up the famous character of Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s darkest and greatest work.
Gloomy dark plots of a murder most foul stir the mind of any play enthusiast watching Hamlet as this sombre tale unfolds with all its subplots and thought provoking wordplay right until its tragic climax. However what unfolded in front of us on stage was a beat of a slightly different drum.
Hamlet â€“ The Clown Prince was like a breath of fresh air brought to you by acclaimed director and actor Rajat Kapoor. Dazzling with slapstick humour, it was staged on November 22nd and 23rd at Gedung Kesenian and Salihara Complex, Jakarta respectively. Again this was just another one of the many amazing events of the ongoing Festival of India, showcasing the tremendous talent in India’s theatrical expertise.
Hamlet in a nutshell is about Gertrude, the Queen who is responsible for the fall of Denmark, murdering her husband and marrying his brother causing Hamlet to be outraged with his mother and her actions leading up to revenge and death. This whole revenge drama is instigated by Hamlets dead fatherâ€™s ghost and what follows is a play of serious emotions and devious plots ending in devastation. At least this was what I expected to see.
What I wasnâ€™t ready for was a story about six clowns who are trying to enact the story of Hamlet with shiny red tipped noses, pointy shoes and tall hats. It had the audience roaring with laughter and rolling in the aisles for most parts of the two hour camaraderie. My unreadiness turned into hysterical uncontrollable giggles that instilled in me, a whole new creative perspective towards playwrights.
Hamlet â€“ The Clown Prince has never been performed outside India until now, marking its first international debut here in Jakarta. â€œThe result is a comic way in which the actors have improvised the various parts of the play and yet touched upon the tragedy of the young princeâ€, quoted Kapoor. A play so intelligently portrayed was entwined in wit, despair, comedy, murder and exaggeration producing gleeful chuckles and smiles of poignant memories that could linger in your mind for several days. Kapoor’s take on Hamlet was simply amazingly quirky that I even thought my toes were laughing at one point.
A cast consisting of Atul Kumar, Neel Bhopalam, Puja Sarup, Sujay Saple, Namit Dass and Rachel D’Souza in a combination of French and Italian accents, speaking in both English and Gibberish with a sprinkle of French words here and there while quoting famous lines from the play mesmerized the audience with their charm, humour and astounding emotions.
Flabbergasted were we with their constant intimate interaction with the audience; the best being when the clown playing Gertrude threw her red garter and air-stroked her phone number to the guy next to me requesting him to stick around after the play for a romantic engagement. Boy was she oh so very flirtatious and captivating, I doubt no man could deny her attention. And thatâ€™s what I call mind-blowing talent!
Their mix of contemporary modern day life into their dialogs and references to Hakuna Matata, Jackson’s moonwalk, Ghostbusters, their firm stand on violent poking against ghosts and the infamous Joker’s ‘Why so serious?’ line that recently made even more famous by the late Heath Ledger made it urbanely spunky and relevant with a tad of some intercultural exchanges causing the audience to connect even more.
Kapoor and his team have written and devised the play very cleverly along with crazy nicknames like Hammie for Hamlet which added a lot of conviviality. You could even notice children being engrossed in their high-spirited flawless expressions. With their white painted faces and perfectly rounded black freckles, stripped socks and black suits, clownery never looked so good.
These clowns sparkled with personal emotion veering erratically between love and hate, more often than not resulting in them forgetting about the play they are trying to enact and engaging in petulant arguments between themselves. It’s to the credit of the actors that they are so comfortable in their confusing on-stage skins. Not forgetting that they are intense beings playing melodramatic clowns that are playing characters in tragic Hamlet – Atul Kumar the being, playing Soso the clown in turn playing Hammie the character! Whoa!
The play which started with a monologue and ended with an epilogue both by Soso standing under a spot light with extravagant gestures to go along with the sounds made an impact when he finally said ‘All this and much more can I truly deliver’. As he sure did! The original dialogues and the digressions were also utterly awesome and profound as I have never laughed as hard as I did in a play before.
To see, or not to see: shouldn’t even be the question. Should The Clown Prince run in your city, don’t miss out as many play aficionados, myself included will not fail to catch it once again. Like a roller coaster ride with jesting and seriousness, love and abandonment, past and present and joy and anger; Hamlet â€“ The Clown Prince was food for thought, stupendous, funny and yet very sad as Soso plainly put it, ‘In Hamlet everybody dies and the rest is silence’.
As the winner of Best Play, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Costume Design at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, New Delhi, the Clown Prince was part of the Festival of India 2009 organized by the Embassy of India in Jakarta.
The writer is an aerospace and defence journalist. She is currently based in Jakarta and can be reached at [email protected]