Company Theatre Mumbai, directed by Rajat Kapoor, in Hamlet the Clown Prince, ‘performed in English and Gibberish with no surtitles’ at Warwick Art Centre, 19th March 2011.
A bunch of Indian Big Top clowns from the West/Far East ‘Best Clown Company’ decide to perform not Comedy, but Tragedy. And not just ‘ordinary Tragedy, no, Greatest Shakespeare Tragedy, Hamletto‘ because Shakespeare is the best, most famous tragedian and Hamlet, despite its ‘long (boring) soliloquies’ is his ‘greatest tragedy’. Being clowns, however, the performance is to be ‘Experimental’ and metatheatrical, and very, very funny. It’s not the first performance, intercultural or otherwise, to imagine a theatre company attempting to put on the ‘global’ classic Hamlet to speak to ‘local’ experience, nor will it be the last. Hamlet becomes the play-within-the-play about a group of itinerant players travelling the world and colliding their own lives with those of the characters they perform. The parallels are obvious: a middle-aged, portly, alcoholic Rosso/Gertrude has had a falling out with her offstage middle-aged, portly, misanthropic lover, Sosso/Hamlet. By the time she is in the closet scene she is beyond remembering her lines or her role, and when Claudius attempts to grab back from her the poisoned chalice, it is Rosso, not Gertrude, hissing ‘my wine!’ Likewise, Polonius is disgruntled that he is not Hamlet. After all, he is the only ‘trained actor’ in the company. Acting as prompt in the closet scene to a discombobulated Hamlet, who is trying to keep his mother/lover from falling drunkenly off her stool, he keeps popping out from behind the curtain and stealing Hamlet’s lines for himself. It is the trained actor who is consequently run through with Hamlet’s pasteboard sword. The funniest moment had to be when Old Hamlet’s ghost had to mime out his fate to his son, as being a stage ghost he apparently wasn’t allowed to speak. It descended into a game of charades, with Old Hamlet having to indicate the key word ‘Revenge!’ thus: ‘one word, two syllables’… All very clever, very silly and in places, very moving – especially when the clown Ophelia pulled daisies, by magic, from her clothing the moment before her death.
More than anything else, my civil partner, who isn’t really into live theatre, laughed all the way through it, and concluded it was ‘brilliant’.
Then who should I bump into in the auditorium? Nicoletta Cinpoes, who organised the wonderful Worldwide Hamlet conference in Romania last year.