I was initially skeptical of Hamlet, arguably one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies, being re-imagined as a comedy. In case you don’t remember the storyline, Atul Kumar (playing a clown who plays Hamlet), helpfully summarizes the plot for the audience at the beginning
Hamlet dies, Ophelia dies, Gertrude dies, Claudius dies
How could you make this funny? As it turns out, by the end of the evening, the audience were rolling in the aisles with laughter.
As part of the Metroplus Theatre Fest, Rajat Kapoor’s Cinematograph brought “Hamlet – the Clown Prince” to Chennai. The play is about a troupe of clowns attempting to put on a show of Hamlet. They forget lines, omit entire scenes, and speak in a combination of English and gibberish. There is a high degree of improvisation and audience interaction which adds to the general hilarity.
Claudius sings from the Lion King, off-stage affairs abound – most notably between Gertrude and Hamlet – while cue cards are torn up and an egg is hatched.
Yet, true to Shakespeare, the clowns speak no more than is set down for them, returning to consider the necessary question of the play.
They move seamlessly between their world and Shakespeare’s, searching for the essence of Hamlet. They may not always use Shakespeare’s words, but his passion survives. Hamlet’s soliloquies extant in the adaptation are delivered beautifully, albeit mixed with some gibberish. The scene where Ophelia gives out flowers to her family brought a tear to my eye.
A stark simple set, and excellent lighting add to the production, as do the award-winning costumes by Tanya Ghavri. Eventually, the standing ovation at the end of the play says more than the awards or even reviews can!