Right now we all need a good laugh. Forget our worries and our fears and just laugh. It’s that kind of year. The country and the world are reeling as it is. And things could get worse. So what better way to tackle the blues than a few hours of laughter?
Enter Stage Left, I Don’t Like It As You Like It, directed by the multi-talented Rajat Kapoor and produced by his theatre company, Cinematograph. Alpana Chowdhury reviewing the show for The Quint called it “a play that is rich in language, sharp in satire, a visual marvel and absolutely hilarious.”
Yes, this is what we need right now.
So what’s the play about? A group of clowns are trying to put up one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, As You Like It. The director of the troupe is distressed because he neither likes the play (which he says, is not a comedy – just two laughs and a death away from tragedy), nor is he very fond of the inept clowns who insist on hamming. Plus, they don’t have a rehearsal space anymore. They decide to move to the forest. As if things were not bad enough, the director has a moment of epiphany. ‘Shakespeare made Rosalind Ganymede. What an underachiever. I will make all the men play women, and all the women play men‘, he says.
What follows is a recipe for a perfect disaster!
Clowning is not easy. Not everyone is good at it. You need to be great with physical comedy…with slapstick. Have great timing and improvisation skills. Be spontaneous. You need to be able to communicate without words or with just gibberish. If not executed with great direction and highly skilled actors, it just won’t work. Vinay Pathak, who plays a crucial role in the play, debunks the tendency to trivialise the clowning technique. “Clowning is serious business. It is irreverent at times, but also mighty insightful. You can emote and critique in the same breath. The fact that language is not given importance means the emoting is constantly in focus.”
But with this line up of fabulous actors, you can be assured that the clowning will be perfect – Vinay Pathak, Cyrus Sahukar, Faezeh Jalali, Joy Fernandez, Rytasha Rathore, Aadar Malik and Shruti Vyas – all actors at the top of their game. As Pronti Datta wrote in her review in The Daily Pao, “the chemistry between the actors is palpable as they verbally joust with each other, rarely missing a beat. There’s a spontaneity to the action, especially the bits in which the clowns goof around. Jalali’s athleticism is once again on display. She’s a whirligig of motion. Pathak, who plays a tragicomic clown in Nothing Like Lear, channels the same mix of sadness and humour while portraying Fido. Rathore, an arresting presence on stage, is hilarious with her comic French accent. Sahukar is, expectedly, a hoot as he lumbers about the stage with comic ungainliness and converses with his best mate Toto.”
Rajat is a master of this genre. This is in fact his fifth play with clowns. And each of his plays has performed around the country to great success. Why does he love clowns so much? In a conversation with Mumbai Theatre Guide he said, “Over the years, having worked with clowns, a few things have become apparent to me. The clowns, for one, give you the essential being, with primal feelings. They are not burdened by social baggage, cast or religion. They are just clowns. So when a clown is happy, the closest thing you can feel is joy, if you get what I mean. It is pure emotion there.”
Add to this, the excitement of shooting the play in an auditorium with a multi-camera set up. Not on zoom. Not locked in homes, with actors performing to their laptop cameras. This show will be performed on stage, on a set, with proper costumes and lights. Actors feeding off each other in the moment. This is the closest we can come to the live theatre experience for now.
So gear up for pure joy. For a slickly produced evening of entertainment. A boisterous adaptation, full of moments of high silliness. In this perfectly timed comedy, gibberish does make a lot of sense!
Let’s forget about our worries for a couple of hours. Let’s just laugh.