After adapting the plays of William Shakespeare, theatre director Anirudh Nair has turned to his poetry. He has crafted a love triangle in his new production, Sonnets c.2019, and uses the Bard’s verses as dialogues. Earlier this month, he staged the hour-long production in an unconventional venue — his own duplex— to a limited audience of 20.
The site-specific promenade piece — in which the audience moves as scenes play out in different parts of a space — began with a song, to an audience gathered near a stairway, and established a sense of intimacy. Next, in a modified kitchen-cum-hall, the characters revealed the backstory. Writer met Muse, churned out a storm of literature before “the passion and romance of new love faded into the prosaic and mundane and inspiration began to run dry”. Enter, the Lover. Cue a burst of fresh creative energy as well as problems with the ex.
The audience was segregated into groups that were ushered through different rooms to watch the relationships play out. On a conventional stage, props would be used to create a home. In Nair’s play, a home was used as a prop. A part of the performance took place in a small bathroom. Two or three audience members stood against the walls as Muse walked in, closed the door and enacted some of most private moments of dejection.
Tech designs fit into the dynamics of a real lived space. This included the simple use of light and shadows from the bathroom to illuminate a scene of lovemaking in an adjoining bedroom. The intermingling of fiction and reality was the strongest feature of Nair’s production. His dexterity in physical theatre has lit up performances such as The Winter’s Tale and Futureproof. In powering through with Shakespeare’s poetry, Sonnets c.2019 required quieter intensities. Instead, after a vibrant first scene, the performances ranged from affected to stilted.
The sonnets themselves sat like an uncomfortable guest trying to decode the tussle among Writer, Muse and Lover. Sonnet 18, one of the most recognisable, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate” transformed into “Kya tum roshan din jaise ho/ ya us se behtar ho?” One of the best translations of Shakespeare’s lines for the Hindi stage still remains Amitosh Nagpal’s tackling of Twelfth Night for Piya Behrupiya.
Sonnets c.2019, devised by Nair’s group Guild of the Goat, sided with the liberal discourse on gender in India, where Section 377 was read down last year. Writer, Muse and Lover are fluid in their sexuality and choice of partners, which is in keeping with Shakespeare’s ideas. His sonnets are thought to have been written to another man and hint at a dark lady prying them apart. The performance structure ensured that the entire group did not watch the same play — there are seven unique scenes for each group. This offered the chance of interesting post-play conversations over drinks as the play segued into a social gathering in the apartment.