It was amazing to see the artiste hold forth a spoof on King Lear, for a non-stop 80 minutes, so effortlessly and seamlessly segueing from being a clown to a pathos-filled frustrated father and more. The enthralled audience remained focused on him throughout, spellbound and silent, letting off occasional guffaws and at other times empathising with his plight. Atul Kumar's movements on the mime acts were so fluent and poetically rhythmic.
On a different note, the organisers ought to allocate seat numbers at least to the Rs. 400/- per tickets, as it is quite irritating to scramble for seats, when the gate is opened 10 minutes before the show, with so many reserved seats in the first two rows remaining vacant.
More than a laugh riot
The clown of the play Nothing Like Lear begins by saying, "The MC has just stated that the play will start in five minutes, so I will start my act only after five minutes." In these five minutes, Atul Kumar, the only character in the play, captured the hearts of the audience. And for the next 75 minutes they could not take their eyes off him. One actually felt there was more than one person on the stage: we could ‘see’ his father, his daughter, his brother and even the car he repairs on the stage. One couldn’t stop laughing either. However, 80 minutes of laughing does not stop one from empathizing with him and experiencing the pained relationship he shared with his beloved daughter, for whom he sacrificed everything. "You people are so gullible," says he, and how true it is!
Director Rajat Kapoor's Nothing Like Lear employs a solitary character, an old gibberish-talking clown (played superbly by Atul Kumar) on stage. The play borrows various themes from Shakespeare’s King Lear like appearance versus reality, nature, blindness, madness, betrayal, relationships, compassion and reconciliation and stitches them with the clown’s own experiences as a child growing up, his relationship with his father and brother, and more importantly his estranged relationship with his now grown up daughter. The setting was simple with the clown in a baggy suit holding a briefcase and a water bottle. The play was well devised with the clown effectively manipulating the audience making them a part of the script. The play left me with some soul searching to do, for answers to essential questions asked by the clown.
Nothing like Lear added an unusually new dimension to Shakespeare in the history of theatre! You never know what the man on the stage would do next, whether he was king or clown, whether he was credible or a schizophrenic, whether he was 'he' or his 'brother' (and who is the bastard anyway?). This playfully postmodern adaptation has more than one subtext. Well, how would it be if Lear after being betrayed by his daughters, chose to hide his grief by juggling imaginary balls? Or did he really lose his mind? Or is it a contemporary daddy after being dumped by his daughter, trying to find solace in Shakespeare? The juxtaposed themes from Lear did seem to be held together by the singular thread of blurring the fourth wall. But underlying all the playfulness, the grief of a father seeing his daughter slamming the door on his face, still exists.
Message from a clown
Mesmerizing! Speechless! Spellbound! These are the only words circling around in my head after Nothing like Lear. Was I watching Shakespeare revolutionised or was it something totally magical? Either way, it kept the audience glued to their chairs. Hats off to the contemporary and abstract style of the artiste and the director’s vision. One laughed one minute and teared up in the next. The play put forth the message about how a child is the most precious gift to parents and how crushed they are when that child rejects them.
A roller coaster ride
Rajat Kapoor's adaptation of King Lear was spectacular. The strings from the original woven so deftly into a pattern played havoc with the emotions of the audience. Like a surfer anticipates the wave, we watched, expecting lines from the original to hit us any minute, and they did when we least expected it. Atul held us in trance.
This is a play that could have so easily been boring and preachy. But Rajat Kapoor’s flawless direction and a riveting performance by Atul Kumar had a firm hold on the attention of the audience. It was an award-worthy performance and one that you'll remember long after you have left the auditorium. Whether he was playing the goofy clown or the pampering father, Atul sank his teeth into the character and made it completely his own.
Drama and humour
‘Nothing like Lear’ provided a concoction of humour, horror, drama and surprise in a tragic plot. Atul, by talking to the crowd, kept them gripped. Kudos to his brilliant acting, he pulled off this challenging monologue effortlessly. The apparently isolated sequence of anecdotes kept the audience guessing till the very end. The thin line of difference between drama and humour left the viewers enthralled. Everything that seemed gibberish initially made sense! The clown left a piece of his mind behind and made a mark on the audience.
Nothing Like Lear triggered a kaleidoscope of thoughts in the minds of the audience. The one-man show had humour, pathos and wit. It kindled deep emotions and was thought provoking.
The initial apprehension of having to watch a single person on the stage, for 80 minutes faded away with Atul Kumar’s performance. His timing was perfect. His ability to sense the mood of the audience and switch the tone of the play by improvising was commendable.
No matter how many new plays are written and enacted, we always crave for the charm of Shakespearean plays. Each of his plays are a literary treasure and King Lear is no exception. The Company Theatre adapted it so wonderfully and gave us a night filled with humour, grief and love. Atul Kumar essayed the role of Lear with amazing finesse. Kudos to Rajat Kapoor for crafting such a play.
It was as if I was at a play in Stratford-upon-Avon. To say that it was mesmerizing is an understatement. I was awestruck and laughing one moment, brooding in the next and feeling angst. So many emotions to relive in 80 minutes! One came out of the theatre not only richer with empathy for fellow beings but also a bit drained out.
Nothing Like Lear disclaims through its very title any association it may have with the bard’s work; yet in doing so, raises the audience’s pique about the title. Donning multiple roles of King Lear, Edmond, and the fool as a narrator, Atul is a master of his craft. To watch him hold an audience captive for 80 minutes, all by himself, with no prop except a battered brown suitcase and a hat, is evidence of that mastery. Interspersing humour into this dark tragedy by playing around with the themes of nothingness, ingratitude, illegitimacy, blindness, madness and greed, Atul seamlessly shifted the narrative from one theme to the other. His brilliant closing, with lines from Lear to Cordelia, showing his love for her and begging forgiveness of his child left me with a catch in my throat.
As always Rajat Kapur presented us with a memorable show and Atul Kumar breathed life into the script with an outstanding performance. Nothing Like Lear was even better than last year’s Hamlet The Clown Prince, I think, because many of us could relate to the issues that Shakespeare's play raised. Atul’s wit and involvement with the audience offset the intense emotions of King Lear's lines. Classical music by composers of the West added lustre to the performance.
Thadagam Link Road
The play was so profound that I forgot where I was. There was no auditorium, no people. Just this guy Atul and I. He was in the light and from there came expressions of truth, creativity, talent , character, confidence, laughter, sorrow, joy, sensuality, emotion and intellect. In the spaces of darkness and silence I just soaked it all in.
Nothing like Lear was an extraordinary piece of work. For 80 minutes Atul Kumar gave us a consummate and riveting solo performance. We were transported to a world of wit, humour and comic melancholy. It was a virtuoso performance. Rajat Kapoor's brilliant adaptation had the entire audience roaring with laughter. Yet the melancholy spirit of King Lear was an integral part of the play. He picked out contemporary themes and wove it seamlessly into the original. We laughed, we cried and we enjoyed this very effective piece of theatre that will linger in our memories.
Watching Nothing like Lear, was a mesmerizing experience. It was not a run-of-the-mill play where the audience is separated from the actors. The continuous interaction with the audience was neatly woven into the script. The clown kept the audience in splits of laughter at the biggest fool, King Lear, for full 80 minutes. Though King Lear is labelled as the greatest tragedy ever written by Shakespeare, the adaptation was brilliant, and there was not a moment of boredom.
The relevance of Shakespearean drama is still seen in this one-man-show adaptation of King Lear. With a liberal mix of mime, stand-up and spoof, Atul Kumar's performance alternately evokes laughter and sorrow as he reminisces about his life with his daughter from birth to the day she has no room for him. The dramatic monologue from the unreliable narrator, which brings out the anguish of a father mingled with his love for his daughter, is simply brilliant. The play leans heavily on the skill of the actor who tugs at the hearts of the audience so easily.
PSGR Krishnammal College for Women