What do you get when you take a large portion of tragic Shakespeare and add six nonsensical and talented clowns, a large helping of gibberish, a smattering of deep and dark philosophy, generous portions of fine opera and spirited dancing, one garter, oodles of brilliant improvisation, refine it finely and bake it to perfection over a period of three months? I’m not sure, but it won’t even come close to the experience that was ‘Hamlet - The Clown Prince’. The clowns captured the audience from the second the first spotlight came on, right up to the curtain call. And, this was one of the rare plays where the attempts by the actors to play the fool (literally) did not cover or mask their brilliance.
Rajat Kapoor’s interpretation of Hamlet is priceless, and catered to a completely mixed audience, whether they knew the original story or not. The contemporary use of words and gibberish only made it more interesting, along with the French, Italian and other European accents. While we spent most of our time laughing, we were equally taken in by Hamlet’s sorrow at times and forgot that the story was being enacted by clowns. The only challenge was that Gertrude / Buzo wasn’t very clear with her strong French accent. Fido, while not playing Hamlet or the narrator, is the one who walks away with the most applause simply because his talent was subtle and outshone the others.
The performance was breathtaking in its audacious humour. The tragic theme of Hamlet was presented as the tale of six often squabbling, sometimes egoistic, always superbly clownish clowns trying to enact the Shakespearean tragedy. Hamlet’s existential dilemmas, as also the dilemmas of all major characters, either come forth or intentionally fail to in a wonderful contemporary way, making us laugh. The script was a gem, the sets were right, the direction was marvellous, and the actors’ performance did justice to them all.
When Rajat Kapoor’s team of clowns takes centrestage, they are out to abolish all conceivable notions of Hamlet! The play is great not only because it has a bit of everything to keep the crowd glued to their seats, but also because it successfully weaves buffoonery with a Shakespearian tragedy. Swinging wonderfully between the tragically sublime and in-your-face cocky humour and crotch-hugging moon walk not withstanding, Hamlet the clown prince leaves us all with a rather adventurous and sweet taste.
This is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. The editing, the reinterpretation and the direction of Rajat Kapoor were phenomenal. The playwrights’ effort in dismantling the ‘fourth wall’ to reduce the distance between the actors and the audience was quite effective. The gibberish though comical brought out a deeper sense of absurdity of language and had a sincerity of its own. Through comedy, Hamlet deals with deeper Oedipal issues. The ease with which Atul Kumar mutated from ZoZo to Hamlet and back left the audience awestruck. Neil Bhoopalan as Fido with his comic timing was captivating, as were the other cast members.
Humour and pathos
The cast did an exceptional job, always commanding the audience’s attention from the nearly bare stage, with special mention due to Atul Kumar (clown playing Hamlet), for effortlessly converting uproars of laughter into intense silence and back. In a milieu where the audience could laugh even while feeling empathetic to the trials of the characters, the play stands as a testament of how closely related humour and pathos are.
Although the acting was powerful and the movements choreographed brilliantly, the previews had said that Hamlet is going to be interpreted by a bunch of clowns using a lot of gibberish and mime. As far as gibberish goes the actors actually were speaking English in a well rehearsed Italian accent. Since this bunch of Italian American clowns milked Hamlet dry and squeezed out as many sexual innuendos as possible, the play could have come with an adults-only warning. Although the director admitted that he is inspired by Fellini and Chaplain, Fellini’s depth and Chaplain’s imagination were conspicuous by their absence.
To take one of the Bard’s most tragic plays and turn it into a side-splitting comic caper, and yet not lose the essence of the original masterpiece — therein lies the dramatic coup achieved by the seriously talented cast and the never-ceasing-to-surprise, multi-faceted Rajat Kapoor. In one word, brilliant. In two, totally brilliant.
Santhome High Road
Give it to Atul
The mood for the evening was set in the first act itself through a fine mixture of play acting and gibberish interspersed with a few words of English. There was no stopping the six clowns on stage, who, between them, portray the major characters of Hamlet. Atul Kumar warmed the hearts of the audience through a stunning portrayal as Prince of Denmark.
The play did falter when the innuendos went a bit too far or the gibberish went a little beyond, but it was quickly brought back through the director’s deft handling of the medium.
To quote Hamlet and Shakespeare, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
The script was a wondrous mix of the droll humour associated with clowns, interspersed with the profound monologues of Shakespeare. The play ended with the shortest soliloquy but the image of the sad lone clown seared the brain. The fear that any purist may have had that the play would be a parody turned to nought; the script adhered to the tragedy — subtle on the surface yet hard hitting in its subtlety.
A real treat
From the get go, as the lights came on we knew we were on for a treat. The deliberate misinterpretations, the side plots, the placating PoPo as the narrator, who tries valiantly to bring the others back on track, the clever mixture of gibberish and English made the play come through in a funny yet poignant way. Truly, Rajat Kapoor and his team delivered as promised, and deserved the standing ovation.
My first play
I’m glad this is the first play I’ve ever seen. The play was deliciously funny and thoroughly entertaining. Though some scenes seemed to drag a little (such as the introduction of ZoZo) and there were places where the music seemed rather inapposite — it was fun. I can hardly wait to watch another play!
Amrita V Nair
The play was a disappointment. The actors were incomprehensible with their gibberish and scattered actions. The thought-provoking plot of Hamlet was reduced to a mere slapstick comedy full of distasteful jokes. It was a surprise that they seemed to have captured quite a bit of the audience’s hearts.
Rajat Kapoor’s interpretation of this timeless Shakespearean classic was a joy to watch. Sometimes. The near absence of the fourth wall made the experience exhilarating for the vast majority of the Chennai crowd, who thrive on slapstick humour. Kapoor clearly knew his audience. Any attempt at a deep and meaningful soliloquy, which epitomises Hamlet, was killed very soon with an inappropriate remark. A play of this type could have been a true masterpiece if it was half its length.