Romeo & Juliet, the classic tragedy by Shakespeare, reimagined and adapted to the music of AR Rahman, presented by a Dance Company. The show was produced by an actress / dancer with a film back ground that should ensure good production values in addition to good media coverage. The sum of it all seemed to be a Sunday evening well spent when I bought the tickets for yesterday’s performance.
The show started half an hour late which was a good thing considering the parking challenges and the traffic, the sparse crowd in the balcony also gave us a choice of seats in the free seating Music Academy. The opening credits started with the National Award winning “Chinna Chinna Aasai” that made me feel warm inside and look forward to the evening ahead.
The stage had very basic props with one gazebo hardly being used and seemed to be taking up unnecessary space, the famous Juliet’s Balcony however on the other end of the stage was used more and despite the lack of height it served its purpose. The backdrop as with many other plays these days was a screen with digital images and some were quite beautiful to see. At that moment you will be amazed at the skills of the stage designers of old who manually painted and built backdrops that had to be changed by hand instead of a simple click of a button. The screen itself had a minor issue there was a protrusion that made the images disjointed and was a little disconcerting at the start.
The musical / dance / drama started with me on a high and then it started unraveling bit by bit. The positives of great music and some good dances were slowly getting obscured by what happened in between. The language used was an odd mix of Tamil, a little Malayalam, Hindi, English and some Shakespearean English. Now it if fairly obvious that this is a deadly mix if not handled well and can back fire badly as it did last night. The fictional town of Alamara I am guessing has been set in Kanyakumari or nearby by the use of Tamil and Malayalam however the mix did not work well as it may have been conceived. The sound, especially the mikes of some of the performers were weak and I lost quite a few lines because somehow there was no improvement in the same despite a good sound team on the spot.
The dances while good in insolation somehow stood out as stand-alone set pieces rather than part of a congruent whole (remembered Shankar movies). The same dances also served as a distraction with the few side acts that happened at different parts of the stage during the dances where small touches were easily missed. (The brilliant AR Rahman songs after awhile seemed to have been inadequately used as while brilliant as individual songs to aid the narrative could have been better used by mixing up / mashing up medleys which would have also conveyed the messages better but that is my personal opinion.)
The costumes were good and despite the short changeover times the performers managed to go about the scene changes quickly. The acting was passable at best except for one or two performers. (Yohan Chacko stood out with his voice modulation; however his character sketching made me scratch my head, since he seemed to have a different character every time he came on stage.) Since many of the cast were dancers it was not entirely unexpected and can be overlooked.
The writing deserves special mention, how can you take a classic and yet get challenged? Two lines stood out, I am reproducing the gist of both:
“You came, you saw, I spat!” (made me cringe, despite its origins)
“It is a church despite being within 500 metres of a state highway” (made the audience crack up)
The latter line alone served to show how much this performance could have been memorable had the writing being better. The writing was poor and quite a disservice to the classic despite the good intentions. No matter how noble it may seem Tanglish to the Bard’s English cannot seamlessly flow unless a lot of work is done to make the transition smooth. Towards the climax a few including me could not wait for Romeo to kill himself. Unfortunately I did not stay back for the final credits after the cast and crew took their bows as it was a late night but I left with a longing for what could have been, if only the writers had stretched themselves out of their comfort zones.
I looked for a Shakespeare meets Crazy Mohan but ended up with Loose Mohan.