There are two views on theatre: one that it is meant for a niche audience, the other that it is meant to entertain. While this seems to be an ongoing debate, sometimes a play comes along that forces one to wonder at the power of theatre. Rogorts Genebot—the Georgian adaptation of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It—is among those rare productions that cannot be described enough in words.
Shakespeare’s plays have been interpreted variously. Rogorts Genebot, presented by Marjanishvili Theatre of Tbilisi, too was staged as a play within a play.
Although such a concept is a common theatre practice, to adapt it to As You Like It was truly novel. Performed at the Ranga Shankara, as part of its 2012 Theatre Festival, Rogorts Genebot was characterised by multiple transitions, from one setting to another and from one time period to another. It was as though the audience had journeyed through different magical lands and eras.
Placed at the centre of the actual stage was a smaller stage, where As You Like It was performed. The actors, hence, shifted roles between the characters of Orlando, Rosalind, Celia, the Duke of Ferdinand, Le Beau and other cameos to stage hands and prompters.
The production was visually stunning. The transition from the court to the forest scenes was effortless, which the actors themselves helped facilitate, without the audience even realising it, like master magicians.
The forest was marvellously recreated with brilliant costumes and props. The scene in which Jacques philosophises on Orlando’s fate was stupendous not just for the actor’s dialogue delivery but for the way the scene was played out; brown, white and yellow paper cut out in the shape of autumn leaves was showered from on top of the stage, for a moment the stage seemed like a canvas on which was sketched a beautiful painting.
The music was created out of percussion instruments such as cymbals and tit-fer, a steel triangle that comes with a wand and was used in western classical orchestras in the 18th Century. The chirping of birds and the call of animals were done by the actors themselves.
Remarkable indeed was how the little hilarious moments that occurred off stage did not detract from the actual play being performed. Experimentation in theatre is always welcome, but many productions have concentrated only on innovations while straying from the original script. This was not the case with Rogorts Genebot. The scenes between Orlando and Rosalind and later with Rosalind in the guise of Ganymede; the entertaining wooing of Phoebe by Sylvius; the conflict between Orlando and his brother Oliver and the friendship of Celia and Rosalind were performed in the traditional way.
The audience remained engrossed throughout the performance despite the play being performed in Georgian. The production was special for another reason; it was the first time that a play from Georgia was performed in India.
Rogorts Genebot stands to prove that Shakespeare’s plays are universal and that theatre can be both an emotionally rewarding and intellectually stimulating experience.