September 24, 2016

Stepping out with volunteers and Hindi Bard

OzAsia Festival
Until October 2.
Bookings : BASS 131246 or

Stepping out with volunteers and Hindi Bard

The Record
600 Highwaymen
Space Theatre, September 21.

Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare
Translated by Amitosh Nagpal
The Company Theatre Mumbai
Ukiyo Tent, Elder Park
September 23.

Opening the 2016 OzAsia performance program, The Record is an intriguing production. Listed as theatre, it has no text, very little context and an only gradually emerging subtext. Calling themselves 600 Highwaymen, creative team Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone have staged this work in Europe and the US and now Adelaide. A group of local performance volunteers is recruited and each is individually rehearsed in a series of simple movements. None of them has even met their fellow performers until they are gathered for the first time on opening night.

The Space Theatre is at its most spacious. Under a brightly lit canvas canopy, the performers – of all ages, ethnicities, shapes, styles and backgrounds – in various combinations step out on the large wood veneer performance area. Initially there are about ten people, making repetitive abstract arm gestures, moving in clusters and then individually. The evocative music, composed by Brandon Wolcott and performed live by cellist Emil Abramyan, integrates and powerfully envelopes the production while Will Delorm’s lighting carefully illuminates the individual participants.

Over the 60 minutes of the event the numbers increase, and the unexpectedly emotional impact intensifies, until all 45 players – the assorted temporary citizens of this democratic stage, gather before us. They are expressionless, but not robotic; they look like commuters, or a beautifully staged street scene. As they finally stand before us in a permutating tableau, it becomes poignantly clear that they themselves are the subject, the story; the reason for the event. And, brightly lit in the auditorium – so also are we, the audience.

Twelfth Night is a Shakespearean favourite but seldom will we see a production as vivacious, nimble and fresh as the adaptation, performed in Hindi with surtitles, by the Company Theatre Mumbai. “If music be the food of love, play on” the Duke Orsino famously says to open the play – and it is composer Cylie Khare’s original music, and the incorporation of traditional vocal styles from quawwali to classical Hindustani forms, which are key to the success of this delectable interpretation.

Using Amitosh Nagpal’s sprightly, often impishly vernacular translation, director Atul Kumar Mittal has splendidly transformed Shakespeare’s text into a musical pantomime which accentuates the extravagant comedy of mistaken identity and crossed purpose but finds wistful reflection and melancholy shading as well.

Dressed in richly coloured traditional costume the nine performers (and three musicians) enact the play with wit and melodic charm. A simple crayon moustache transforms Olivia (Anamika) into Cesario, the lovestruck Viola is coquettishly and regally played by Titas Dutta while Dhruv Lohumi’s Sebastian mischievously jokes with the audience and Sudheer Rikhari gently satirises Orsino in a trilby hat.

As Feste, Pooja Gupte is especially appealing, bringing a poetic lyricism to the foolery with her beautifully performed Song for Soothing Spirits in Distress. With the warmth of its comedy and musical riches this delightful Twelfth Night is more than just a frolic.

“Stepping out with volunteers and Hindi Bard,” The Australian, September 26, 2016, p.13.

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