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Witness a unique take on Julius Caesar with this play in Colaba

Updated on: 10 July,2024 09:00 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

Power, satire and humour come together in this performance by a clowning troupe as they take on William Shakespeare’s major play

Witness a unique take on Julius Caesar with this play in Colaba

Moments from the first performance of the play in April

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Witness a unique take on Julius Caesar with this play in Colaba

While the complexity of his plays and use of language is legendary, many people often fear reading Shakespeare. Actor and director, Alistar Bennis, seems to be an exception. His upcoming performance, Seize Her, The Clown, will take on the play Julius Caesar through the art of clowning.

“The play stayed with me through school. So, when inspiration struck during one of our jam sessions, we decided to take it up,” says Bennis, a professional clown artist and actor. He recalls watching theatre maker Rajat Kapoor’s take on the four great plays of the bard through clowning in 2017. “It turned me towards clowning as an art form. I decided to pursue it with a course at the Helikos University in Padua, Italy,” he recalls.

Alistar Bennis
Alistar Bennis

The bard would have approved. The clown is a key figure in several of Shakespeare’s plays from King Lear to Hamlet. “The archetype of court jester attracted me; a person with one foot inside the court, but also a lowly member of society — a paradox. They are allowed to have a voice of dissent. Since they speak in tones of humour and ridicule, they would often get away with it. Again, I say often, not always,” the director notes.

In the performance, Peer Shakes (an homage to the bard) is hired by an agency to perform Julius Caesar with his clown troupe. While Shakes wants to take control and please the money-makers, the clowns around him begin to question the status quo.

Yet, finding humour in Julius Caesar, one of the four great tragedies, can be tough. “With 2024 being the biggest year for electoral politics, we felt we had to stage this,” he remarks. The ridiculousness of election campaigns across the world mirrored the clowns in his play, he says.

Bennis reiterates that unlike theatre, the key to a clowning performance is a direct connection with the audience. “As a clown, you cannot rigidly stick to the script. There is no fourth wall. Whether the audience is bored, happy or angry, you interact with them. If there is a baby crying in the audience, we have to respond. This makes us very vulnerable as performers,” he admits.

This also reflects in the language of the performance, with the clowns in power speaking in Elizabethan English while the others are using Marathi and Hindi. “Accessibility through language becomes important. It is a tool of power as much as a mode of communication,” Bennis remarks. But what of humour, we ask? “As long as the connection is authentic, the humour will be authenticated. We are clowns attempting to perform Julius Caesar. The humour emerges from this struggle. The audience relates to their failures, flaws and weaknesses. Clowns after all thrive in failures and problems,” he says.

With Caesar done, the writer admits there could be more on the cards. But he will play it by the ear. “We would like to take on serious subjects, even climate change, through clowning. Do it with a smile,” he concludes.

ON July 14; 6 pm
AT Abode Bombay, Lansdowne House, Colaba.
Entry Rs 800 onwards 

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