A giant puppet representing Horatio’s ghost in the Kolkata Goalz production and (below) a student of Union Chapel in As You Like It. Picture by Arnab Mondal
While the whole world prepares to herald the Bard of Avon’s 450th birthday celebrations with sennets and flourishes, British Council took a flying start this year itself by dedicating its All-India Inter-School Drama Festival to him. Nine institutions nationwide (four from Calcutta, where evidently Will still has his way) staged novel take-offs on his life and works.
Winner of the Best Production and Best Actor prizes, Kolkata Goalz Police School placed Hamlet on the football field, showing off their natural soccer skills. Very imaginatively, they made Hamlet’s father the captain whom Claudius, an ambitious teammate, plans to injure in a tackle so as to secure his own place on a British camp. Hamlet (Akmal Ahmed) intervenes, forewarned by Horatio’s ghost, innovatively constructed as a giant puppet.
The script bore purely coincidental similarities with Greg McGee’s controversial New Zealander rugby play, Foreskin’s Lament, no doubt unknown to Goalz. Closer parallels dogged the only other remake of a tragedy, Modern High’s Macbeth, in which a violinist seals a Mephistophelian pact to remove her rival – recalling Marlowe’s Faustus as well as Shaffer’s Amadeus. But their live all-girl band came as a welcome surprise.
Some fun exercises on the comedies spotlighted the condition of girls. Union Chapel debuted enjoyably with a version of As You Like It where Rosalind, a young scientist, cares little for the arts and for her mother, a Shakespearean actress who rarely has time for her. She and Celia go on a science trip disguised as men for safety reasons. There, she meets Orlando, a magnate who donates his millions to work for the village.
Much improved from last year, St. Mary’s (Udipi) presented a complex production where the Duke from Measure for Measure goes to the 21st century to crack down on crimes against women. Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s female characters also decide to come here because they think our women have a better deal. Rosalind is a top cop but Orlando, her subordinate, does not like her position as a senior. Portia the lawyer finds Shylock making an indecent proposal to her, and street rowdies harass Viola, an IAS officer. They realise that attitudes still haven’t changed.
St. Mark’s (Delhi) won the Best Actress award for its variation on Twelfth Night, where Viola loves pretending to be her brother and joins a Bollywood director cinematising a Shakespeare drama as his male secretary. Twin sister (Sanjana Chaudhary) and brother looked remarkably alike in their Sardarji turbans and suits, so the comedy of errors truly clicked.
Delhi Public School (Rohini) composed a rhymed Taming of the Shrew, in which the heroine overpowers her husband who abused and controlled her.
Marlowe’s ghost reappeared twice. GD Birla Centre showed him accusing Shakespeare of plagiarism, but through excerpts from their books he understood that he had actually inspired Will.
PSBB Learning Leadership Academy (Bengaluru) portrayed Shakespeare as a young scenarist submitting a film script to a director, who steals it and has a hit on his hands. Disillusioned, Shakespeare too lifts from various sources but gets exposed instead. In a flash-forward twist, we discover that he took Marlowe’s name and grew famous eventually.
The Best Script went to Bright Day School (Vadodara), though it had hardly any connection to Shakespeare. But it certainly proved the most theatrical, with a complicated plot involving candidates for student elections that almost get rigged.
In its 34th year, this event contributes enormously to theatre in education, but all the participants could have benefited from longer workshop sessions with the facilitators. Local schools could have completed theirs earlier in the week, and visiting guests on the days just before the finals.
The writer is a professor of theatre, translation and Tagore in the English department of Jadavpur University.