Mumbai to witness musical pantomime version of Shakespeare's play The Tempest

Jan 23, 2016, 12:23 IST | Krutika Behrawala

Do only words maketh William Shakespeare? Certainly not, say the makers of The Tempest, who are set to showcase the playwright’s genius in a Broadway-style pantomime

It's a story of good vs evil. Two brothers — the decent-always busy Prospero, the Duke of Milan and an ambitious and unscrupulous Antonio. Mani-pulating the king’s weak character, Antonio orders Prospero’s ouster and becomes the Duke himself. Fate intervenes and the story shifts to an island populated by an evil witch, Sycorax, a spirit called Ariel and Caliban, a creature from the underground. Pros-pero and his daughter Miranda live on the island by enslaving Ariel and banishing the witch. Sixteen years later, using magical powers, Prospero creates a storm to drown a ship carrying the weak king, his son Ferdinand and the evil Antonio. The spirit guides them onto the island where romance blooms between Miranda and Ferdinand; the king sees the brothers for who they are. With the wrongdoers forgiven, the ship returns to Milan with Ferdinand crowned as the king and Miranda, his queen.

A scene from the musical pantomime play, The Tempest, which returns to the city after two years, after a pan-India run
A scene from the musical pantomime play, The Tempest, which returns to the city after two years, after a pan-India run

With the trappings of a Bollywood potboiler, this is the plot of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, which also features Bard-penned memorable quotes including ‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here’.

A scene from an earlier staging of The Tempest
A scene from an earlier staging of The Tempest

However, on January 30, during an hour-and-10-minute long staging of the play at a Bandra auditorium, the audience won’t hear the cast utter a single dialogue. Instead, they’ll witness the entire storyline through pantomime, accompanied by Broadway-style light and sound spectacle. “Referring to the art of mime as practised by (French actor) Marcel Marceau, pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production that uses facial expressions, body language, music and dance to narrate a story,” shares the famous actor-comedian K Paintal, who has directed the play.

The cast at a rehearsal earlier this week. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
The cast at a rehearsal earlier this week. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Presented by Helen O’Grady International, the cast comprises 22 members (actors and dancers) who are students from various city colleges, trained under the speech and drama institute’s Youth Theatre segment. The performance will mark the play’s return to Mumbai after two years. “When you think of Shakespeare, you think of oratory and words. However, we wanted to break the language barrier and make his plays more accessible across India. That’s why, we thought of presenting it in a pantomime format. We’ve travelled to Goa, Nagpur, Chandigarh, Pune and Amritsar and the response has been amazing. The play has been appreciated by every age group across languages,” shares Nutan Raj, VP (training) at the institute, who has also mapped Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Rajasthan as the next stops.

The Tempest connect
According to Paintal, the diversity of characters makes the play particularly suitable for a pantomime. “Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, the characters of The Tempest can be portrayed most effectively by suggestions in costume and body language,” he says. For instance, the leading lady, Miranda will be seen in earthy greens depicting she is a child of the forest while Ariel, as the spirit of the air, is decked in white. Caliban adorns rust browns.

The makers also had to re-arrange the storyline, using the flashback technique, to ensure that the audience follows the plot. “The story is written on a large canvas and covers a span of 20 years. It was not simple to encompass all of it for the stage. We are happy that this has been achieved through fascinating visuals, lights and effects,” shares Arpita Mittal, CEO of the institute.

Cast a mime net
While throw of voice is an important factor taken into consideration when casting for regular productions, here, the makers picked actors based on their body language. “In regular staging, at times, dialogues tend to cover up for less than perfect body language, but in mime, each action has to be highlighted or else the audience would not follow the sequence. Being a renowned mime artiste, Paintal along with trainers from Helen O’Grady held intensive workshops for a month for the cast to perfect their body language and facial expressions. Post that, the rehearsals went on for four months,” informs Mittal.

Delving into the nature of the workshops, 25-year-old actor Vikas Baid, who plays the lead character Prospero, says, “Firstly, we had to understand our body vocabulary and ensure that both, mind and movements are coordinated and balanced well. We started with basic body movements and emoting them without uttering a word. For instance, how my character stands, sits, walks, talks, eats, drinks, etc. This brought clarity into our performances.”

A musical high
To depict the highs and lows in the plot, composing a powerful musical score was essential to make up for the lack of dialogue, admits Mittal. “Using artistic freedom, we have used the verse ‘Now my charms are all o’erthrown…’ in the form of a song to show Prospero’s helplessness when he lands on the island after the banishment. Another verse in the climax uses Shakespeare’s famous words, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep,’” she sums up.

On: January 30, 7 pm
At: Rangsharda Auditorium, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (W).
Log on to: bookmyshow.com

Mime in Indian theatre
Founded in 1976 by the Kolkata-based mime artiste Niranjan Goswami, Indian Mime Theatre is considered the pioneer of the genre in India.

Niranjan Goswami
Niranjan Goswami

“Until then, you would see solo mime performances but I started directing full-fledged plays without using dialogue,” recalls Goswami.

A still from Key To Happiness
A still from Key To Happiness

His first mime directorial were three short mime plays — A Daily Drama, Flower Love of Flowers and Death of Communication — staged in Kolkata in 1981, which used mukhabhinaya (silent acting, a form based on Natyashastra). He later produced and directed plays like Sonar Gnayer Meye, Key To Happiness and Mess House.

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