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A fool rushes in

Atul Kumar in Nothing Like Lear. Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Atul Kumar in Nothing Like Lear. Photo: Meenal Agarwal   | Photo Credit: mail kams

“Nothing Like Lear” shows Shakespeare's King Lear through the eyes of a clown.

The energetic, self-willed clowns of “C for Clown” and “Hamlet the Clown Prince” directed by Rajat Kapoor are back in “Nothing Like Lear”, produced by Rajat Kapoor's Cinematograph and the Company Theatre. Though the play takes inspiration from the Shakespearean tragedy and the irremediable ache of the foolish old man as he descends into madness, this is a devised performance with stories that sometimes sound very specific and at others quite indeterminate and can belong anywhere. But it is the character as well as the motif of the clown that clearly fascinates director Rajat Kapoor. As a universal motif the clown is able to take us through the ordinary business of his own loss and wrench, revealing from his pain and constant sometimes oppressive jokeyness, a darkness and sense of waste not very different from the original Lear.

Since this is a devised play we have a storyline made up of the stories and fragments that surfaced during improvisations with the cast comprising the Company Theatre's artistic director Atul Kumar and Vinay Pathak with Rajat Kapoor. This process took place over two intense months before the script was frozen somewhat a few weeks prior to the first show. The piece has the actors improvise even within the devised script as they effectively manipulate the viewers while simultaneously baring their own selves. In doing so what flickers to life on stage is a very real sense of shared vulnerability and risk taking with their viewers that their craft as actors allows them.

The narrative reflects the themes of King Lear: ageing, betrayal, the tragic wound-down story of a father-daughter relationship, the travails of excessive and foolish love. These are narrated by a weeping, depressed clown who relates his accounts of a disastrous relationship with his daughter. As the narrative progresses we discover a natural coming together of his story with some of most effective moments and scenes from King Lear and he speaks the tragic hero's lines. All of this is overlaid with touches of gibberish that give the clown the freedom to make associations and connections with the big themes of his narrative and also undermine the elements of his own tragedy by departing from it when it threatens to get too real and felt.

Director Rajat Kapoor has the actors perform the same material in successive shows. Atul Kumar in his clown avatar brings an irrepressible sharp energy and responsiveness to his performance. Vinay Pathak's clown is more deliberate and doleful and deeply disturbing. “Having the same material performed by two actors is interesting. They have different approaches, different body rhythms which inflect their performances in subtle ways,” says Kapoor. While the play will primarily be performed as a single performance by Atul Kumar, Pathak will join him occasionally to present a double bill on weekends.

Bottomline: A narrative that reflects the themes of King Lear: ageing, betrayal, a tragic father-daughter relationship and the travails of excessive and foolish love

Nothing Like Lear; At Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai February 11 - 19

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 12:14:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-fool-rushes-in/article2878569.ece

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