Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Samir Bhamra
Composer: Ajay Srivastava and Devesh Sodha
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
Shakespeare and Bollywood are two things you wouldn’t usually expect to hear in the same sentence, so the concept of a Bollywood style adaption of the classic, romantic tale that is Cymbeline is rather difficult to get your head around. This evening at The Belgrade saw the Phizzical theatre company attempt just that.
Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s greatly debated plays; some say it is genius, others, frivolously absurd. This production sees elements of both presented to us in a very unique fashion, and instead of the very British story of the king of a Britain and his princess, we are told the very Indian tale of a Bollywood movie mogul and his daughter. After going against her idolised father’s wishes by marrying a layman, Innojaan is held under lock and key while her husband, Sherrudin is sent into exile. While mourning his lost love, Sherrudin seeks to defend Innojaan’s honour as a loyal wife, but after appearing to lose a wager with a smooth talking Arab called Yakim, and believing Innojaan was unfaithful, he orders her to be killed. Unaware he has been fooled, not only by the trickery of Yakim, but by the deception of his servant, Sherrudin believes Innojaan to be dead and joins a riot in protest of Cymbeline’s unpaid debts by way of revenge. A twisted and somewhat farcical series of events follows leading to an unusual (for Shakespeare) happily ever after for the majority of the characters we grow to like along the way.
An unchanging set consisting of a few wooden steps and a continuous smoke machine is all that is offered to set the scene. An opening sung live to a backing track mimicking that of a cheesy Indian music video marks the beginning of the tale and the following narration provides us with the background of the story we are to be told. Parts of what follow lack the enthusiasm to be effective and engaging, and at times it is easy to begin to lose interest in the characters, especially with the traditional long prose of Shakespeare to contend with. However, other parts are sheer genius and scenes such as a tribal style, kung fu fight are enough to renew the audience’s focus and regain our attention. With a mere six cast members, everybody has multiple parts to play. Sophie Khan Levy is the only exception to this, but sadly, even with only one character to portray, her performance lacks the confidence needed to create the audience connection that Innojaan deserves. Although clearly talented, her emotions seem flat at times and her acting unconvincing and her fellow cast members outshine her throughout. Robby Khela gives a highly entertaining performance as the charmingly cheeky servant Pisanwa and effortlessly transforms his performance to adapt to the other characters he is responsible for playing. Tony Hasnath as Yakim is the perfect fit for the typical sexy, Shakespearian bad guy, and despite appearing to have been sewn into his leather trousers, uses every inch of the stage to exaggerate his slick performance. Stealing the show however, and playing his own step-son is Nicholas Gauci as Cymbeline/Cloten. His performance as Cloten is akin to that of a Bollywood John Barrowman and he manages to ooze sex appeal while behaving in an absurd, comedy camp manner. His monologues are invigorating and his mannerisms hilarious and he holds together the whole production.
Although lacking in places, this production of Cymbeline has great potential. The concept works, and with some fine tuning, could go far. Overall, a likeable attempt to bring the works of Shakespeare into the 21st century. Worth a visit.
Running until 21st September
Picture: Robert Day