No holds bard

Posted on

Some are born with the Bard, some achieve the Bard and some have the Bard thrust upon them.

In Phil Bathol’s case, it was all of the above.

Bathols was vacationing in the Himalayas in January 2002 with his Sikkimese wife. His biggest daily challenge was trying to develop a taste for nettle soup, a Sikkimese concoction. Then Ajit Saldanha happened (he had spotted Bathols’ production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) in Singapore). Email after email followed by phone calls convinced Bathols and his managing partner Tim Woods to bring Shakespeare to India and Bangalore (The fest kicked off on January 28 in Mumbai and February 5 in Hyderabad and will be in Bangalore between February 8 and 13 followed by tours in Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi).

But why Shakespeare? Saldanha reverbs in evangelistic fervour: “Because we firmly believe that audiences are tired of being force-fed a monotonous diet of beauty contests and fashion shows (not to mention, the same faces). Because it makes business sense. Let us not forget that the literature of an ugly merchant banker has endured for over 400 years. Because, we hope that the young and the young at heart will laugh till they cry over what The New York Times described as ‘the bard without the boring bits’ or ‘Groucho Marx meets Monty Python’.

And as director of the play John Saunders puts it: “As Will said, we ‘will be brief’ so you have to really pay attention because you could easily miss The War of the Roses, King Lear dividing his kingdom, or Othello smothering Desdemona.”

The point? Keep your eyes open and your ears peeled to witness a very silly (and slick) Australian version of all of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes (it took the BBC nine years; imagine sitting through that). Because right now, the Bard is hip, cool and has a lot of chutzpah. He’s everywhere (thank you Mel, Gwyneth, Kenneth, Baz and to a certain extent, Leonardo). And as Saunders puts it: “Our reduced Shakespeare production puts the Ham back in Hamlet, the tights on Titus and truly reclaims Cressida away from Toyota and gives her to Troilus.”

Says AJS Nath, Saldanha’s partner at Encore Live: “It’s what Mel Brooks was to the movies (History of the World, Casino Royale, To Be or Not To Be). And Othello done in rap is a twist in a niche segment of entertainment. We have forgotten to laugh any more and this takes us back to the good, old days.”

But what is Bangalore’s thinkerati saying about Shakespeare? Fali Vakeel, executive director, Lowe India, is yet another person with an Othello hangover. Says he: “He mirrors human nature, which is jealousy, sex, violence, lives, deceit… all the seven deadly sins.”

Manmohan Anchan, creative director, O&M, goes for Hamlet. “But why I love the character, I don’t know,” he laughs. “The play is designed for people who think it’s boring and that’s an amazing achievement because there is that curiosity element through out the play.”

Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fashion coordinator David Whitbread’s favourite character. “He’s mischievous, full of life, and I enjoyed playing him when I was in college.”

That aside aside, let’s get on with the play. You have Romeo and Juliet (including the scene where Romeo ‘tries to get into Juliet’s pants’). And yes, the creators have tried to make the play contemporary by choosing locations such as the lunar landscape, Nazi concentration camps, and even in the Botanical Gardens in Kolkata. Not to miss the cookery show, Titus Androgynous (also showing how to cook a rapist and serve him to his mother at a dinner party).

To be or not to be at the Chowdiah is left to you (after all, there are more things in heaven and earth, as Shakespeare would put it). But as Mat Howard of the Shakespeare Globe Centre Australia says, “When something vanishes into ‘thin air’, when we laugh ourselves ‘into stitches’, even when we are as ‘dead as a doornail’ we call upon the words and spirit of Shakespeare’s literature.”

Director Saunders outlines your agenda: “Sit back, roll up your doublet, turn on your hose and with Macbeth, ‘plop!’ laugh your heads off, because just like Richard III, I have a hunch you’re really going to enjoy yourselves.”

The troupe of Ezra Bix, Berynn Schwerdt and Tim Schwerdt will weave their wicked way through all of the Bard’s comedies, histories and tragedies at the Chowdiah from February 8-13. Donor passes (Rs 750, Rs 500 and Rs 249) are available at all Planet M outlets and The Habitat on Church Street.

1. Let me grind his bones to powder small, and with this hateful liquor temper it; And in that paste let his vile head be baked. At about 350 degrees. And 40 minutes later, you have this lovely human head pie, which I prepared earlier (pulling a severed hand from the pie), with ladyfingers for dessert.
2. The Moor of Venice.
Now Othello got married to Des-demona,
But he took off for the wars and he left her alone-a.
It was a moan-a
A groan-a
He left her alone-a.
He didn’t write a letter and he didn’t telephone-a!
3. Henry VIII comes up with it. It’s deep into time on in the final quarter, he’s got to score. He runs down the centre, takes a bounce, takes another bounce, baulks his wife and chops off her head! I can’t believe she fell for that one. He lets go with a towering torpedo punt from seventy metres, it’s going, it’s going, straight through, it’s a sausage roll for the Red Rose! There’s the siren! It’s all over! This looks like the beginning of a Tudor Dynasty.

(First published in City Reporter, 2003)