Thursday, January 18, 2007

Age cannot wither...

Orange Sky's production of Cleopatra was strong on costume and sets though the performances were slightly unconvincing

PASSIONATE QUEEN Cleopatra's costume was grand as befitting the royal everyone loved to hate

William Shakespeare's tale of love and deception along the shores of Nile and Rome, has captured the imagination of writers for centuries. Anthony and Cleopatra is as strong as its protagonists and is packed with intrigue, love and war. In a recent attempt, Bangalore-based Orange Sky presented their version of the famous play.

Adapted by Reshma Tonse and directed by Kanak Narayan Sen, Cleopatra was performed at the St. John's auditorium. The play was executed well, with only a few technical hitches. The scenes moved rather swiftly between Cleopatra's palace and Rome.

The stage is set to suggest these two locations with two Roman Coliseum like structures at the two ends of the front stage, and a pharaoh's chair at the centre for Cleopatra and the actions happen in the appropriate areas.

Most of the stage was used well. The music too, occupies scenes between Anthony and Cleopatra, but ended rather abruptly every time.

The costumes were grand. Cleopatra was dressed in shimmering gold, and the rest of the cast in black. Keeping a basic style of the toga, the actors were given different styles in black. One can understand the need for neutral costumes and colours to avoid costume changes especially with same actors playing two roles, Tonse plays Charmaine and the soothsayer and the three main male characters — Agrippa, Anthony and Octavius Caesar — merged with other characters.

Structurally, the production followed the main plot of Shakespeare's play.

So how is this play an adaptation? First, maybe in its attempt to recreate the classic to a modern audience, Tonse has retained the main characters in the play, doing away with more than a score characters in the original.

The director also suggests that the adaptation focuses on Cleopatra's (Sudarshana Gupta) emotional trials, caught in self-doubt, vanity and fear. The plot in the adaptation is not far from the original. So are the characterisations. The single flaw? The performance seemed rather dilute and unconvincing. The strength and resoluteness of Cleopatra even in her emotional shifts, vanity and diffidence is missing. Rajiv Gupta, as Anthony was his confident self, Jaiprakash stood out as Agrippa, and was consistent.

While none of the actors had any problems with lines, they too struggled somewhere with being convinced themselves. Sudarshana Gupta's work is apparent, nevertheless, her struggle to seem convincing as Cleopatra, only suggests that a play of Shakespeare, even if adapted, becomes in many ways both the best and the worst play for those who are working on it for the first time. Admittedly a difficult script such as this requires a lot of authorial and characterization support, otherwise faces the risk of showcasing good, potential talent, which ultimately does not touch.


Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Thursday, Jan 18, 2007

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