No man has ever written a tragedy that’s better than Lear, and no clown plays it better than Atul Kumar
When the curtain fell on Atul Kumar’s performance of Nothing Like Lear, I was emotionally and physically spent – the mark of a good performance and of an evening well spent.
In the 80-minute monologue of mostly English and some gibberish, Atul reprises his role as the clown most of us will recognise from Hamlet the Clown Prince and C For Clown, which was brought to us by Cinematograph and The Company Theatre. In this adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy, King Lear, Rajat Kapoor directs Atul to keep the audience on tenterhooks of yo-yoing emotions – frustration of his failing eyesight, switch to his desperation to entertain you, switch to his crazed attacks of manic depression, switch to the pain of a father who loved his daughter greatly and foolishly, switch to the sadness of an old, pathetic, clown.
The audience at Ranga Shankara was enthusiastic; they laughed when it was funny, and when it was not, when the clown paused a second to catch his breath and when he stood with his pants around his ankles, and sobbed.
We recognise the themes of ageing, betrayal and that of a father who loved his daughter so foolishly from the original play.
The narrative incorporates scenes from King Lear and effectively superimposes them into Nothing Like Lear making it a befitting adaptation. A significant example is the clown’s lament for his daughter reciting the same lines Lear did at Cordelia’s death, “Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones….She’s gone for ever! — I know when one is dead, and when one lives; She’s dead as earth.”
And it is critical to acknowledge what an excellent story-teller Atul is — the actor allowed his exaggerated gestures and expressions to compensate for the minimal props and lack of company on stage. He expertly converted the monologue to dialogue between him and his brother, sometimes his daughter, sometimes his doctor.
The performances were alternated with Atul Kumar and Vinay Pathak who had a different interpretation of the clown.
Some say he is more deliberate, doleful and disturbing, but that is for another show at another time.