Friday, 9 May 2014

Theatre review: All's Well That Ends Well (Arpana / Globe to Globe)

Globe to Globe saw Shakespeare's Globe play host to (almost) the entire canon, each play performed in a different language. What was meant to be a one-off part of the World Shakespeare Festival seems to have become an annual fixture, with new productions now being commissioned for a run on the South Bank - of the three shows this year, only All's Well That Ends Well is a returning visitor from 2012. Performed in the Gujarati language by India's Arpana company, Mihir Bhuta's Sau Saaru Jenu Chhevat Saru isn't a direct translation of Shakespeare's play, more a loose adaptation of the main plot. Heli (Manashi Parekh) loves Bharatram (Chirag Vora,) but he's not interested in her. When she cures his wealthy uncle (Utkarsh Mazumdar) of TB, Heli is promised whatever reward she wants, and she chooses Bharatram's hand in marriage. He has no choice, but after the wedding he flees to Burma, telling his wife he will only recognise their marriage if she performs two impossible tasks.

Sunil Shanbag's production tells the tale in the Bhangwadi theatrical tradition, which was popular in 1900s Bombay where the action's been relocated. It's a mostly naturalistic style, apart from the songs which punctuate the action as ways for the characters to bare their souls to the audience. Many of these international productions have a physical storytelling style that crosses language barriers, but as evidenced by the laughter from Gujarati speakers in the audience, Bhuta's script and Shanbag's production put most of the comedy in the dialogue; as G2G's surtitles only provide scene synopses rather than a full translation, for non-speakers these witticisms are lost, and the musical interludes provide the best source of entertainment.

The play remains problematic whatever its language and setting; a couple of captions suggested that the Indian caste system was referenced in terms of Bharatram's social superiority to Heli, although I don't know how far that was explored. There's an attempt to soften the blow of the bed trick, which boils down to a sexual assault on Bharatram: But having the Parolles figure, Parbat (Satchit Puranik) blackmail the Diana character, Alkini (Nishi Doshi,) into having sex with his friend opens up a whole other world of problems that's at odds with the overall jolliness. And it is all very jolly, but not this strand's best example of theatre speaking beyond the language barrier.

All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare, in a version by Mihir Bhuta, is booking in repertory until the 10th of May at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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