A distant island, a shipwreck, a story of love, revenge and forgiveness, and a group of characters whose personalities change with the blink of an eye –most of us are not oblivious to this Shakespearean plot. But Sancharya’s Kannada production of The Tempest, which was performed at Ranga Shankara on 20 June, took its own musical course to narrate the story.
The first beat of the tabla marked the opening of the play. Even though it was a Kannada production, I had half expected some sad, morose, irrelevantly romantic tune to play; something that would take us back to Rajkumar’s era. Folk music and Shakespeare was definitely not something I had expected. The sparsely set stage with a raised platform here and there, and suspended fairy lights that represented the magical isle did not seem very promising, but the melody is what kept the play alive for the next hour and a half. The actors swayed and danced on the stage, creating the illusion of being on a ship. With the closing notes of the music, the play began with the scattered crew on the shore, post ship wreck.
Shakespeare, with a bright orange feather attached to a pen would be seen appearing casually out of nowhere through the course of the play. He would freeze his characters, and ponder over their actions and their consequences. Sometimes, he would look stunned and repeat the lines alongside the character, and then seem surprised about how the characters were narrating the same lines.
Every time a character would narrate a line, a funny looking man in white pyjamas and a bell hat would turn up looking excited, and translate it to English. “To be or not to be” he would say, exercising a few facial muscles, “that is the question”. When he would finish reciting his line, he would jump, laugh, and disappear behind the scenes, leaving the audience perplexed about their Shakespearean knowledge and this little addition to the play.
What would start off as a tense scene between Prospero and Caliban would suddenly turn into Caliban throwing a silly tantrum about why he should get abused by his master Prospero. “Yellaru nannanu baithare, edalla nan yak madbeku” he would say, only to see Shakespeare come running to him to pacify him and console him and resume the play. It would then go on to end with where they had left off before, making me feel like I was holding on to a piece of wood from the shipwreck in the ocean, in their unnecessary fit of desperation to make the audience laugh.
The play then went on a step ahead to localise itself. The reunion between Stephano and Trinculo could have been so much calmer if the two had not gone running around the stage screeching “Trinkuuu!” and “Stephuuuu!” for a whole minute. Prospero on the other hand stole the show. Unfazed by the loud yawns, his authoritative voice boomed across the halls and did what it was meant to do perfectly. Not only did he have a magical cloak, this Prospero had a magical dreadlock wig too; when he removed this wig, he became a transformed, happy, and forgiving man.
The play ended with a happy reunion between the entire cast and the same swaying little dance that it began with.