He's one of English literature's tallest and most well-known playwright-poets. So how does one mark William Shakespeare's 450th birth anniversary? Mumbai will do this with two plays — Doppelganger on the eve of his birth anniversary (on April 22nd) and Shakespearewallah on the Bard's birthday, (on April 23rd), which will be staged by theatre group The Phoenix Players (TPP), which is turning 30.
Shakespearewallah is a tribute to genius in which an old actor-clown, forgotten backstage after his swan song, reminisces about life and art," said Salim Ghouse of TPP who has conceived, written, designed and enacted the play.
He added, "In this show after the last one, an inspired performance of a lifetime unfolds unwittingly before an empty auditorium. Interspersed are characters from the Bard of Avon's genius, echoing the creative truth behind the artistic impulse. Based on an idea by Anton Chekhov, this layered portrayal using mime and music begs the basic question: When does Life end & Where does Art begin?"
According to Ghouse, "Considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time, Shakespeare's 37 plays form one of literature's greatest legacies and have spawned innumerable performances, adaptations and films. From famous tragedies Macbeth and King Lear to tragic love stories, such as Romeo and Juliet, to epic historicals, such as Antony and Cleopatra, each has the power to entertain and enlighten."
"Doppelganger on the other hand," laughed Ghouse's wife Anita, "is everybody's worst nightmare about to come true: that missing WMD — Wonder of Mirth and Delight — Mulla Naseeruddin is all set to run amok and create mayhem."
"This roller coaster of delightful escapades, featuring 'the wise fool', whose 'wit and wisdom', have entertained generations for centuries. It is a left-handed compliment to the 'war on terror', an oxymoron of the superlative kind — on good old-fashioned hypocrisy, cant and bigotry, mirroring today's turbulent times," she said.
The 80-minute play enacted by Anita and Ghouse is based on Mulla Naseeruddin a fictional character, created by the Sufis as a teaching device using humour. "Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote is a famous literary inspiration. Mulla Nasrudin is also the original Harlequin who was adapted into the Commedia Della Arte in European theatre. In India, Birbal and Tenali Raman, two historically renowned personages, belong to the same genre," explained Ghouse.
"We want to 'interpret' the plays, exploring the essence of the text, instead of being faithful literally, walking tradition and modernity in tandem. The harmony and economy are underlined by minimal sets and costume, while the judicious interplay of lights and sound, enhance the vision of the 'play and not the player', towards a holistic interpretation."