The year-old Rabindra Bharati Theatre Repertory has come into its own with Phāgun Rāter Gappo, from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Soumitra Basu’s new translation does not distort the source while reinventing it yet retaining the characters’ names, and Tarun Pradhan’s direction indigenizes it into a quasi-native ethos of rustic humans and fantastic forest beings. Pradhan’s vast expertise in Bengali folk forms enables him to employ a range of performatory modes from Raibeshe to Leto, the bhānr style of farce and the rhythms of dhāmsā and mādal, and a set heavily reliant on homegrown rope-and-bamboo craftsmanship.

All these inputs create a sensual, picturesque palette evoking the spirit of the original, including the darker subconscious shades in the comedy that the 20th century unveiled. One cannot help recalling Tim Supple’s achievement that has surely influenced Pradhan’s vision and praxis, which reverberates with a vibrant physical energy that he has instilled in the whole cast. Standing out among them, Bhaskar Mukherjee turns Puck into a sinister creature that snakes like a wary jungle animal, suddenly transformed into a lightning-fast predator as the need arises. Costumes and makeup complement the unpredictable dream-like feel.

In marked contrast, the English and Bengali adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by the British troupe Ghetto Tigers involving Jadavpur University students failed on two major counts. With only a perfunctory exposure to Palagan, director Mukul Ahmed, of Bangladeshi roots, did not do justice to either the wide spectrum of the form or the intensity of Shakespeare’s tragedy by reducing it to just over an hour. Furthermore, he committed the cardinal error of interculturalism by giving the main roles to his own actors and simply replicating their London production, denying equal participation to the admittedly less-experienced but talented students who had chosen to work under him.

Whereas this process clearly suffered from insufficient rehearsal time, another bilingual international collaboration showed the benefits of two groups even without a link language interacting closely over several months. Jana Natya Manch (Delhi) and Freedom Theatre (Palestine) took their Hameshā Sāmida in Hindi and Arabic on a national tour to acquaint audiences with the realities of oppression in Palestine. Despite its brevity, its focus on two symbols – the key to their family houses carried for decades by dispossessed Palestinians, and the olive tree that stands for life and resistance – and its caricatures of opportunistic political leaders thoroughly engaged spectators.

(From The Telegraph, 30 January 2016)