Translated by Amitosh Nagpal. Directed by Atul Kumar. A Company Theatre production presented by the Cultch and Diwali Fest. At the York Theatre on Tuesday, October 11. Continues until October 22
If music be the food of love, play on—and add a few big dance numbers while you’re at it. Colourful, giddy, exuberant, and so much fun, Piya Behrupiya is a terrific way to kick off Vancouver’s Diwali Fest, a lively local incarnation of the Hindu celebration of light.
This play, in which translator Amitosh Nagpal and director Atul Kumar reimagine Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as a Bollywood musical, was commissioned by London’s Globe Theatre, and the Mumbai-based Company Theatre has performed it over a hundred times. A brief synopsis of their version: after twins Sebastian and Viola are separated in a shipwreck, Viola disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and enters the service of the Duke, Orsino, who sends Cesario to woo his beloved, Olivia. She spurns Orsino but falls in love with his messenger. Meanwhile, Olivia’s uncle Toby, his friend and unwitting benefactor Andrew, and the servants in Olivia’s home conspire in convoluted mischief. The plot’s many twists and turns offer ample opportunities for show numbers in the Bollywood tradition.
The playful cultural mashup starts with the stage backdrop, a giant banner triptych on which the Bard’s face blooms from a cluster of lotus petals, like a Hindu deity. The image looms over a platform for the musicians and whichever cast members aren’t part of the downstage action in any given scene. This doesn’t stop them from interrupting the proceedings to heckle each other, both in and out of character, in a play whose fourth wall is delightfully flimsy.
Audience members with no knowledge of Hindi or of Bollywood conventions (like me) can still be caught up in the boisterous spirit of this show; there are helpful surtitles (and the occasional sprinkling of English), and there’s not a weak link in the cast of nine. Geetanjali Kulkarni’s Viola relishes the boyish mannerisms she adopts for her disguise, while Mansi Multani’s Olivia finds countless flavours of swooning. As Sebastian, Mantra Mugdha gripes entertainingly about his paucity of lines. Tall, rubbery Aadar Malik is a physically inventive Andrew, and Neha Saraf’s vocal precision makes Feste a clever and watchable fool.
Everyone on-stage appears to be having a great time; it’s hard not to get swept away by their sense of fun. So, performers and spectators, celebrate love, celebrate light—play on!