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Little Lear



GETTING YOUNG Shakespeare's great tragedy King Lear through children's eyes

If Prema Karanth is a big name in children's theatre today, credit goes to her consistent hard work over 25 years, and the professional productions she comes up with at the end of every one of her annual theatre workshops for children.

Alibaba, Sindbad, Giant Mama, Nakkala Rajakumari, Ispeet Rajya, Panjarashale, Alilu Ramayana Sunnada Suttu, and Pushparani are just a few of the memorable productions Benaka Makkala Nataka Kendra (of which Prema is the founder and secretary) has staged during the last 27 years of its existence.

Prema plans well ahead for her annual workshop-productions and even has plays written by eminent writers specially for the occasion. Though exotic sets and costumes, music and choreographed movements are an integral part of most of these productions, not all of them are typical children's plays based on fairy tales and fantasy. Sunnada Suttu, for instance, was an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle.

This year Prema Karanth has attempted something even more daring and got children aged between 14 and 17 to stage an adaptation one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies King Lear.

The adaptation, Huchchu Dore mattu Moovaru Maakkalu (The Mad King and his Three Children), scripted by eminent poet-playwright Dr. H.S. Venkatesh Murthy was staged at the Ravindra Kalakshetra last week.

Adaptations of Shakespeare have flooded the Indian stage for over a century. Early commercial theatre companies would take his plot outline, give it an Indian setting, make it more spicy by adding songs and melodrama. That's roughly what Dr.H.S.Venkatesh Murthy does too, except that he tries to communicate the images and insights of Shakespeare in a language accessible to children. The exotic, Chandamama-like names given to characters capture their essential qualities.

The focus of the play is largely on parent-child relationships, the gullibility of fathers and the love or treachery of children. Though Lear's wilfulness is portrayed as bordering on madness right from the start, the opening scene, in which he expresses his desire to strip himself of all that is worldly, makes him sound a little too spiritual, almost like Lear does at the end of Shakespeare's play.

Narrative bits introducing plot and characters appear a little forced at times, particularly in the opening scene and the omniscient narration of the soldier in the end. The chorus does not really have much of a function in the play. Despite all this, the adaptation does capture the power of the original.

Costumes (Prema's forte) are rich and exotic and headgears attractive. Sets and props, designed by Pramod Shiggaon, are beautiful. Both sets and costumes are Indonesian in design and add a lot of colour to the play.

Gajanana's music is designed to puncture the vanity of Lear and adds to the mirth in the comic scenes. Movements are a mix of the stylized and the realistic. Most of the young artistes spoke with clarity and were confident in their movement. The Fool (Aniketana) and Bahupriya, Edmund (Vrajalal) were particularly noticeable.

The play definitely proves Shakespeare is for all `ages'!

LAXMI CHANDRASHEKAR

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