Twelfth Night, The Globe, 28 April 2012
Given the cold and wet conditions it was not surprising that The Company Theatre of Mumbai had arranged for two heaters to be placed at the back of the Globe stage.
Three musicians sat with a harmonium, hand drum and small percussion instruments upstage relying on the heaters for warmth. The cast sat behind them, coming forward when required and occasionally commenting on the action when seated. The performance itself took place forward of the Globe’s twin stage pillars.
Based on traditional Indian street theatre, this Hindi production, directed by Atul Kumar, provided the broad outline of the story interspersed with music and dance.
The performance began with a lively song, not the doleful music that might have been expected. We were introduced to Orsino (Sagar Deshmukh) in who strode around in a red coat, gesticulating with the brash, confident gestures of a ruler.
Orsino caught sight of Olivia (Mansi Multani), elegant in her sari and still mourning her dead brother. She rebuffed his advances, plunging Orsino into the downbeat mood of the start of the play.
The shipwrecked Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) found herself surrounded by the rest of the cast and was transformed onstage into Cesario. A binding was pulled up over her chest and her hair was put into a bandana. She drew a moustache on her upper lip and swaggered around in her pantaloons like a young man.
We were introduced to Toby (Gagan Riar), who sported a rakish mop of shaggy hair; Andrew (Mantra Mugdha) was more soigné, while Maria (Trupti Khamkar) in a blue sari wagged her finger disapprovingly at the men’s antics.
Orsino had difficulty in pronouncing Cesario’s name when dispatching the newly-hired youth to woo Olivia on his behalf. But the disguised Viola’s affection for her employer was made very evident when, in a parting embrace, she firmly clasped both her hands round Orsino’s bottom rather than his back: a cue for Orsino to glance in surprise at the audience.
A mischievous female Feste (Neha Saraf) mocked Olivia for mourning her brother, and managed to make her smile when explaining why she should be happy. Malvolio (Saurabh Nayyar) looked suitably dour in his black coat.
Cesario gained admittance to speak to Olivia, but found the entire cast under veils so that Olivia could not be distinguished. When she finally showed herself, Olivia took a shine to Cesario, asking him about his family background. We heard the English phrase “very good family”, which Olivia repeated nervously as the love bug began to bite.
After Cesario left, Olivia expressed her infatuation with him in an elegant sequence comprising of gestures and eye movements from classical Indian dance. She darted her eyes coquettishly from side to side in a way that needed no interpretation.
Sebastian (Amitosh Nagpal) stepped out of the world of the play to talk to the audience, complaining that Shakespeare had only written a few lines for him and that many of them had been cut by the director. He apologised that his friend Antonio had been unable to come.
Malvolio caught up with Cesario to offer him a ring sent by the love-struck Olivia. Having been rebuffed, Malvolio threw the gift to the ground muttering “Beggars can’t be choosers”.
The stage band provided a variety of songs enabling Toby and Andrew to party. Eventually the entire cast were singing, creating enough noise to summon Malvolio who shut them up.
Maria and Feste responded by threatening the steward with kung fu poses. Not surprisingly, Maria wanted her revenge and the plot to humiliate Malvolio was laid.
Another tête-à-tête between Orsino and Cesario ended in Orsino kneeling and hugging his servant. His face ended up pressed close to the disguised Viola’s bound breast, causing Orsino to cast another surprised look.
Productions of Twelfth Night traditionally put great effort into the gulling scene and this one was no exception.
Toby, Andrew and Maria waited on the balcony, while Malvolio wandered the stage musing to himself about keeping Toby as a pet. He mimed stroking Toby in the palm of his hand, prompting loud complaints from the offended Toby on the balcony.
Maria put down the forged love letter for him to find and soon the entire cast was following Malvolio as he read from it. He used the English word “destiny” when contemplating his future life with Olivia.
As Malvolio continued, the cast stood to one side rocking backwards and forwards in time to the music, sometimes crowding round him.
Olivia responded to Cesario’s second visit with a display of very devoted and tactile affection, making it necessary for Viola to fold her arms strategically to prevent Olivia’s wandering hands from discovering her chest.
So far the performance had been broad brush comedy. But the mood suddenly changed. Left alone on the stage, Viola paused, ran round the back of a pillar, and then came forward to kneel at the edge of the yard. She silently let her hair down to become a woman again and gently lay on her side.
This corresponded to the sequence in which she rues the impossibility of her love for Orsino: “I have one heart, one bosom and one truth”. On that touching note, the interval came.
At the start of the second half a third heater had appeared on stage. But the action was hotting up anyway as Toby incited Andrew to duel with his love rival Cesario.
Spoken Hindi is often spotted with English phrases. And here, the quite natural occurrence of words such as “sorry”, “follow me”, “destiny” aided comprehension. But now a more extensive passage of English was used to comic effect.
A second appearance from Sebastian allowed actor Amitosh Nagpal to tell us in English that he was the translator of play, which he described as a “thankless task”. But loud cheers and whoops from the audience immediately proved his statement incorrect.
The other great comic set piece in this play is the appearance of the transformed Malvolio. At first he appeared quite normal, but then disappeared briefly offstage to return in transparent yellow stockings over dark underpants with his jacket unbuttoned.
Malvolio pursued the frightened Olivia and sat her on his knee, squeezing her mouth into a comical pucker and moving her head from side to side.
Maria and company danced in celebration of their success.
Toby had great fun winding up both Cesario and Andrew to get them to fight, telling Cesario that his ineffectual companion was like a “serial killer”, and forcing Andrew to do press-ups as last minute training. Their final confrontation saw them merely glance past each other.
Sebastian finally got to take part in the action of the play by becoming the object of Olivia’s attentions as she mistook him for Cesario.
As her seduction progressed, Sebastian gleefully went along, grinning at the audience. Olivia half swooned with love, and as her eyes were closed, Sebastian took his chance and tried to undo her top. Unfortunately for Sebastian the garment resisted.
This being a cut-down version of the play, Malvolio’s imprisonment and further gulling were not staged. The character of Antonio was also absent enabling the performance to race towards its conclusion.
Olivia flirted with Cesario in a continuation of her earlier dalliance with Sebastian, arousing Orsino’s jealousy.
This was interrupted by the arrival of Toby and Andrew who had been fighting with Sebastian. Viola’s brother now stood at the other end of stage to her.
The shock of recognition led to the joy of reunion. But this was interrupted by the return of Malvolio who complained of his maltreatment.
Cesario left the stage and returned in Viola’s clothes with her hair down. She and Orsino, Olivia and Sebastian, Toby and Maria exchanged garlands in a marriage ceremony. Poor Malvolio offered his garland to the audience, but with no takers he simply put it round his own neck.
Feste returned and the famous (and particularly apt) “for the rain it raineth every day” saw her put her hand out beyond the protective cover of the stage roof into actual rain.
A final song brought an incredibly fun performance to a close.