Hamlet: The ‘so-so’ Clown Prince

Posted on 25 March, 2017 by Team Wishberry

This clown is in a sour mood. After all, nothing good is happening in the world today anyway — well, nothing apart from the fact that he is going to play Hamlet!

Welcome to Rajat Kapoor’s world of difficult comedies where a neatly tied beautiful red-nosed bow is placed on a bundle of tragedy and offered to you. What is not on offer is comic relief and that is exactly what I had expected from Hamlet, The Clown Prince.

I can go on and wax eloquent about the performances but I am here tell you a story because, “all this and much more can I truly deliver”.

I had gone in with the baggage of knowing Hamlet one way — I walked out of St. Andrew’s Auditorium without that baggage and with new knowledge. And one only has the clowns to thank. They taught me that when tragedy is presented in a shroud of comedy you can still deliver the pain, albeit it stings a little less. The Bandra audience roars with laughter and gives you a standing ovation and in return you get to reference the tragedies unfolding on a daily basis and affecting everyone — from the situation in UP to the sham of modern-day relationships — it is all up there for grabs — take it in if you want to or else, enjoy a comedy with the finest clowns that theatre in India has to offer.

Now, onto the play; shall we?

Hamlet, the Clown Prince is a comic take on what is perhaps William Shakespeare’s most tragic play — tragic not merely because of the events that unfold but because of the Danish Prince’s sheer indecisiveness. Therefore, when 6 clowns decide to take it on, consciously and unconsciously they make it their own — they bend the rules, use language that is a heady mix of gibberish, Italian, French and English and well, turn the tragedy into a ‘sorry state of affairs’.

This Hamlet is a mean clown. He is late and has made the audience wait. Well, he has a tonne of excuses for you — he couldn’t find his way, he was led to a church instead of St. Andrew’s Auditorium, etc., etc. To top that, he thinks way too much of his dramatic skills, is selfish and self-centred (wasn't Shakespeare's Hamlet the same as well?) and is cuttingly rude to Buzo the alcoholic clown playing Gertrude. He even cuts fat jokes to make her feel ‘small’. Well, Buzo is doing no favours to herself by whipping out the whiskey flask whenever she finds the chance. On the other hand there is Fido, who just doesn’t seem to get a handle on the character that he is supposed to play. He breaks into the Lion King dance and even spouts the Joker’s “Why so serious”, line! He speaks up while 'dumb charading' as Hamlet’s father, is not a conniving enough Claudius and breaks character way too many times, much to the dismay of his fellow clowns but also much to the liking of the audience. He truly ‘exacts’ the laughs! Then we have the poor 'directore' Popo — he tries to manage his clown company primarily by using the threat of violence (he uses it as well!) but we all know how that goes down — Buzo forgets her lines and doesn’t care if Fifi is prompting her or not, Nemo tries to convince 'bossy' so that he can play Hamlet and instead is gagged using black tape (symbolic for today’s day and age), and Hamlet himself runs around the stage upstaging Buzo’s skirt! This is madness — but then that is exactly what is needed.

Amongst all of this, there is Fifi — she is the baby of the company and is playing Ophelia — a word in for the way in which Kapoor has penned Ophelia’s part — comedy apart, the scenes where she interacts with Hamlet and talks of his sudden disinterest, and well, the scene documenting her death — no words come to mind when trying to explain what you feel when a clown playing Ophelia dies. It is as Hamlet had announced in the beginning of the play — It “will make your eyes pop out, hair stand and heart wrench.”

In the end they all die — Hamlet (Soso) dies, Ophelia (Fifi) dies, Gertrude (Buzo) dies, Claudius (Fido) dies, Polonius (Nemo) dies, Laertes (Popo) dies — but that is exactly what Soso aka Hamlet had promised.

P.S.: If I remember correctly, not even once did this particular Hamlet mouth the line, “To be or not to be…”

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