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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Stage Diplomacy: Shakespeare at Delhi theatre fest, starring UK’s Dy High Commissioner

Performed by the award-winning Prague Shakespeare Company, with whom Thompson acted when she was Ambassador to the Czech Republic till 2018, Richard III revolves around a man who is deformed in mind and body, and obsessed with becoming king of England.

Written by Dipanita Nath | New Delhi | Published: February 16, 2020 3:49:27 am
Stage Diplomacy Shakespeare at Delhi theatre fest, starring UK’s Dy High Commissioner UK Deputy High Commissioner to India Jan Thompson as Queen Elizabeth in the play

A new actor appeared on stage at the 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the theatre festival organised by Delhi’s National School of Drama on Thursday evening. UK Deputy High Commissioner to India Jan Thompson put aside her diplomatic schedule to turn into Queen Elizabeth, who lives through the death of her husband and the murder of her young boys at the hands of a tyrant king, in William Shakespeare’s Richard III. “I feel regal,” she said after the show, dressed in the queen’s costume of an elaborate gown and pearls.

Performed by the award-winning Prague Shakespeare Company, with whom Thompson acted when she was Ambassador to the Czech Republic till 2018, Richard III revolves around a man who is deformed in mind and body, and obsessed with becoming king of England. He murders his brothers, nephews and anybody else who stands in his way before the ghosts of the past and Henry of Richmond bring about his end.

“Everything that happens in the play, which portrays the politics of power, both personal and political, feels so relevant. In today’s world, too, you have tyrants and people who abuse power. Every different audience and generation could get something from this play,” she says.

“The play also has strong messages to the society about the treatment of women… It is very close to my heart for that reason,” said Thompson. “I am a strong woman but have had a lot of difficult situations to contend with in my life, but then so have so many women. Queen Elizabeth is indomitable and, in the end, triumphs by being on the winning team.”

Elizabeth, she adds, is a bit of a diplomat as well. “She manages to keep her real feelings to herself and masks her true feelings a lot. Diplomats sometimes have to keep up fronts. They have to be careful about the words they choose and the emotions and feelings they express,” she says.

Theatre came to Thompson late in life. She was in her late twenties-early thirties, long after her diplomatic career began, when she began performing in Germany. “It is very important to have theatre as a counterpart to my working life. This artistic and creative side of me is something fabulous,” she says.

After a packed house gave the play a standing ovation, people crowded around Thompson and the rest of the cast. The play has been performed in Prague before, but there were almost no rehearsals before the show in Delhi. “It is a wonderful opportunity to be on stage in India. I never thought I would do that. I really hope I have another opportunity to act in theatre in this country,” says Thompson, who was honoured with an OBE for her diplomatic work in Afghanistan some years ago.

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