Wednesday, 16 May 2012
The Tempest, The Globe, Tuesday 8th May 2012
It is a little perverse and a little wonderful that the first play I've ever seen at the Globe just happened to be in Bengali.
But it's one of those places I've always meant to go, and I guess it took the Bangla-patriot in me to get me there, but really, The Tempest performed in Bangla at Shakespeare's Globe isn't something I could have missed. Nor, it seems, could a large chunk of London's Bengali population, judging by the audience - it was quite brilliant to see a sea of brown faces, saris, hijabs and beards filling the Globe.
This somewhat unusual event was part of the ambitious Globe to Globe festival, which is hosting 38 non-English language interpretations of Shakespeare plays by theatre companies from around the world to celebrate the World Shakespeare Festival and the forthcoming Olympics. The acclaimed Dhaka Theatre Company has been on the drama scene in Bangladesh since 1973. Whilst most of their works are original compositions, their adaptation of The Tempest showed the quality, originality and innovation they're known for in their home city, to a world audience.
Dhaka Theatre's production was, first and foremost, terrifically entertaining. I think The Tempest was a perfect fit for a Bangla Shakespeare (though I still think Lear could be made into an incredible modern Hindi cinematic tragedy, of Omkar/Othello proportions). Not just because of the storm that opens the play - but also because of the magic that's central to it. Magic that is as malevolent and mischievous as it can be delightful and enchanting, a magic that is embedded within the natural landscape. Ariel is a familiar figure to anyone who knows Bengali stories about djinni. And the "postcolonial" readings aren't lost either: Caliban's tale was at one point used to gesture to the Language Movement, and the costs that Bangladeshis well know of having your language and your freedom curbed by a powerful stranger from afar.
The Manipuri drummers that spun and beat throughout the play (in the green on the right above) were spectacular and truly thrilling, but perhaps a little excessively used to punctuate the dramatic scenes. I would have preferred a little more dialogue, a little more of the Shakespeare translated into Bangla. I wasn't too sure about the removal of the bitter from the original bittersweet ending (I had Fanon's words about freedom having to be taken not given, in my head as Prospero benignly set Caliban free). But the comedy was well done, the quasi-jatra physicality translated very well, and the set was as charming as could be hoped for with a production that was only in situ for two days.
It felt very special to be there, particularly during the curtain call when acclaimed actress Shimul Yousef grasped the outstretched hands of the appreciative audience, and one of the actors ran back onto the stage wrapped in the Bangladeshi flag. I wonder what Will would have made of it all? I hope he would have smiled to see the sheer reach of his work, and have approved of a piece that captured The Tempest's playful, magical heart.