Rajat Kapoor’s ‘Hamlet: The Clown Prince’ a comic version of a tragedy

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For over four centuries Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s famous plays, has been presented to audiences in all styles and genres. This eternal doubter and skeptic reveals the human being in a deep existential crisis. Everyone will recognize something of themselves in this tragic ‘prince of Denmark’. Like anyone would recognize something of themselves in classic clown figures like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the joker and the Indian vidushaka.

In Rajat Kapoor’s play Hamlet: The Clown Prince, the director combines the two and as the title suggests, looks at the classic Hamlet play through the eyes of a clown, a comic version of a tragedy. We were recently at a performance of the play in Holland and Charla gives us her thoughts on the performance.

Director Rajat Kapoor has been fascinated by clowns and jokers and decided to let a group of clowns discover and explore the character of Hamlet. Hamlet not really just a whiner or a spoiled portrait? A woman hater? And what exactly is death? And he does all that within a span of two hours, where he also makes sure that several lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet are intact and used properly, but with a twist and turn of course.

Kapoor expresses the essence of Hamlet: “Hamlet reflects the confusion of the human soul. The characters are torn between love and betrayal, between forgiveness and revenge, between action and inertia. That is the reason why this piece is so universal and timeless.”

Unhindered by too much knowledge about the piece – Soso, Fido, Bouzo, Nemo, Fifi, and Popo Coco – rediscover the figure of Hamlet and Shakespeare’s text. Actually, the players are only interested in themselves, in the lead role or a fling with someone from the audience. Shooting back and forth between slapstick, villainous venom and tender moments, the actors tumble through a piece that is different every night, because they change each time.

From the moment the play starts the audience is completely involved. The play is partly in English and partly Gibberish. The clown company played by Atul Kumar, Kalki Koechlin, Sujay Saple, Neil Bhoopalam, Namit Das and Puja Sarup are outstanding in their role. This is just outstanding casting by the director and The Company Theatre.

Hamlet was very entertaining and the interaction with the audience was ingenious. Neel Bhoopalam is one actor to look out for. The way he combined tragedy with comedy was marvellous. He would display tragedy and then break into a song and dance and sing a song from The Lion King. Also Namit Das (Yes indeed, Rishi from Wake Up Sid) was fantastic on stage. He is a trained theatre actor and you can sense that by the way he moves on stage. It’s his home. He even sang a few lines and what a voice! Besides acting, he can definitely take on a career as a singer as well.

Audience loved it
When the play ended, the cast received a standing ovation for at least 5 minutes. Everyone was cheering and clapping. They were hoping for more.

Afterwards the audience could interact with cast members and the director. I spoke to a few audience members and they were all amazed at the creativity and skills of the cast and crew. They were surprised that the director had kept several important Shakespeare lines, but presented it in such a creative way, that they had never expected. “I really enjoyed the play. I had never expected one could be so creative with Hamlet. The cast was outstanding. Their talent for improvisation should be applauded”, says a Dutch schoolteacher.

The audience wanted more and some people were disappointed that they couldn’t see it again, as was I, but unfortunately there were only two shows in Amsterdam. Hopefully they will come back and entertain us once more.

Make sure you catch this play if it is playing in a theatre near you. You will have a rocking night of fun, tragedy, drama and gibberish.

Who is William Shakespeare?
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is considered the greatest genius of dramatic literature of England. He was the principal author of the Elizabethan theatre, and wrote many famous plays, including Romeo & Juliet, Mid Summer Nights Dream, King Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet.

Story of Hamlet
The spirit of Hamlet’s father, a Danish prince, tells his son that he was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and the new husband of his mother. Hamlet is paralyzed by doubt. Must he take revenge or not? Because of his doubts he also drives Ophelia, who is in love with him, to despair. Hamlet finally kills Claudius.

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