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The Bard, upside down

FOOTSBARN TRAVELLING Theatre Company which had delighted Bangalore theatre-goers with its unique production of L'Odyssee a few years ago, is back in the city again, this time with a crazy cocktail of Shakespearean drama, Perchance to Dream. Extracts from five major plays of the Bard: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream, (all of which have been performed by the company during its thirty years of existence) have been blended to create this heady mixture, full of fun and frolic.

Like many of Footsbarn productions, Perchance to Dream too has been evolved through improvisations by all the artistes and is not the work of a single director. The title, an extract from one of Hamlet's soliloquies, suggests the motif that unites the plays. They are full of people who follow their dreams. The dreams may vary from character to character. Some may dream of love and some of power. Some dreams may be beautiful and some others, nightmarish. Whatever the dream, the subject matter of all the plays is the same, the human condition, which seems to have remained unaltered through the ages and across cultures. It is this, which makes the merging of different plays possible.

The show begins with the youthful romance of Romeo and Juliet. We follow this spirited couple through their fiery romance to the marriage altar. The balcony scene played on top of a tall post is a wonderful piece of acrobatics. A film clipping projected on to an old white cloth shows the marriage being celebrated in an old church. But the newly wed couple, which emerges out of the screen are Claudius and Gertrude. While the lusty, middle-aged couple is itching to go to bed, young Hamlet protests their hasty marriage and is urged by his father's ghost to take revenge. Scenes depicting Polonius's discovery of the source of Hamlet's madness and his death are beautifully caricatured.

We then follow Macbeth's dream of power and are treated to a delightful visualization of the witches' prophecy. The best part of the show is the blending of King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream into a hilarious tragedy. Instead of Pyramus and Thisbe, we have the `rude-mechanicals' of Athens rehearsing King Lear. It is amazing how well the lines fit. The ever-enthusiastic Bottom is cast as the King, but is eager to play the daughters as well. Lear's transformation and Gloucester's blinding are a real treat to watch.

The characters of all the plays meet their ends in the more sombre second half. Having witnessed men and women through a range of emotions and through different stages of life, from youth to old age, we see death sweep over them. The huge white sheet, which covers the stage wraps them all in a shroud. Even devout Shakespearean scholars who may have felt uneasy about the way profound moments in Shakespeare are reduced to comedy, are likely to find the philosophical note and the inter-textuality intriguing.

Apart from different plays, the three-hour marathon show is a blend of diverse theatrical elements like acrobatics, masks, marionettes, shadow play, film, mime, clowning, music and dance. The production is multi-lingual as well, with artistes drawn from different parts of the world often lapsing into their own tongues. (Somehow, one finds it easier to respond to this than to the highly accented English spoken by some of the characters.) Though language plays only a secondary role in this highly physical performance, the smattering of the local lingo does add to the flavour. The energy the actors bring into to the show leaves us breathless. They are all over the auditorium — running out of one door, appearing through another, jumping on to a cart or hauling ingeniously designed set pieces. The best among the actors combine physical feats with fine articulation. Romeo, Juliet, Polonius, Claudius and Bottom are the characters who stay in our minds.

LAXMI CHANDRASHEKAR

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