From a 1968 version of Merry Wives, to a Hamlet set in a high-end condo, or even an all-female version of A Winter’s Tale, local theatre companies have twisted and reshaped Shakespeare’s plays into any number of innovative productions. In what may very well be a first though, Vancouver audiences will have an opportunity to see a Bollywood-inspired musical version of Twelfth Night direct from India.
“It is not technically a Bollywood-inspired version of Twelfth Night,” corrects director Atul Kumar by phone from India. “It comes from one of the folk forms of Indian theatre, Nautanki.”From Mumbai’s The Company Theatre, Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night), is not only inspired by Bollywood, it is also performed in Hindi. Not to worry though, for the anglophones in the audience, it comes complete with English surtitles.
A precursor to the more familiar Bollywood genre, Nautanki remains a popular Indian folk operatic theater performance style. Using romantic tales, mythologies, or biographies of local heroes as its base, it seems a natural choice for a re-imagining of Shakespeare.
Originally commissioned by The Globe to Globe Festival in 2012, Twelfth Night was one of two choices given Kumar’s company. “I think we were obviously at the end of the line as they were handing out plays,” laughs Kumar. “They gave us the choice of Twelfth Night or Hamlet.”
Having just come off a production of King Lear, Kumar was not in the mood for another tragedy, choosing the comedy instead.
“This was our company’s first musical ever,” says Kumar. “We had never attempted live music on stage, it had always been pre-recorded. There were many challenges in dealing with with music in theatre, but I was blessed with actors who could sing.”
Ultimately translated by company member Amitosh Nagpal into Hindi, the translation and creation process was a bit unorthodox.
“We jumped on stage without any translation and thought it would be fun to evolve the text as we were rehearsing,” says Kumar. “We were also living together in our theatre residency, and we had never created a theatre piece in a residency before.”
So successful was the residency, Kumar and his company now use it exclusively when creating new works.
“There were just so many positive sides to being in the same space, thinking about the creation constantly,” says Kumar. “Cooking and playing together, and even fighting together all became an intrinsic part of the production.”
A translation, as opposed to adaptation, Kumar also points to how his company embraced Shakespeare’s story to make it their own. He views it as a way of breaking free of how Shakespeare has traditionally been performed in his country.
“The most interesting thing is how we personalised it with our language and our culture,” he says. “It has become this glimpse of what a certain part of India is, how Shakespeare has infused life into India, and how we have infused our own experiences into Twelfth Night.”
There is some delicious irony in knowing Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night) saw its birth in the home of Shakespeare, the same country that would colonize India. Since its premiere at The Globe, Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night) has traveled across India, and now across the world, to another of the colonies.
Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night) plays The Cultch (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) from October 11 to 26. Visit https://thecultch.com for tickets and information.