Review: Nothing Like Lear

Posted on Jun 20th, 2012 by Shuchi in Reviews, English, Solo Acts, The Company Theatre

Nothing Like Lear, Vinay Pathak Nothing Like Lear, the play calls itself – are we to take the name at face value? As with the rest of the play, the title too teases us with the bind of what to reject and what to believe. The show draws from the story and characters of Shakespeare’s Lear, but fits no neat label of adaptation or parody.

Watching Rajat Kapoor’s Nothing Like Lear can be oddly unsettling – it is like participating in a game of one-upmanship between actor and audience, a game in which the actor is always a step ahead. As we walk into the auditorium before the play starts, we see a clown (Vinay Pathak) on stage making small talk with the crowd, assuring us "it hasn’t started yet". When that small talk segues into the actual act, we cannot tell. And so it goes on. The lone actor recounting his often rambling, seemingly disconnected stories, inviting the audience to fill in the blanks. We’re constantly questioning what’s happening on stage: is this an aside from the act, a part of the act, or a part of the act within act? We think we know, but keep learning every now and then that we we were mistaken. 

The play has its moments of hilarity – and of horror – and they mix in unexpected ways. Funny anecdotes take on ominous meaning later on. Right in the middle of an intensely emotional scene the actor pulls a "teehee, gotcha!" trick on you.

A fascinating device: the unreliable narrator. Nothing Like Lear features, quite literally, the Clown, the tag for an unreliable first-person narrator who toys with truth and expectation. Our clown nods appreciatively when we help him with words he’s trying to recall (including the name of the bald, bearded guy who says thee-thou-thy), he reminisces about his past and his family, but we’d be wiser to take his words with a pinch of salt.

At the heart of the play is the unhappy relationship of the clown with his daughter. This transpires through some brilliantly conceived scenes in which the clown steps in and out of the narrator and actor roles, chatting with the audience one moment, speaking lines of immense anguish the next. It takes an exceptionally gifted actor to pull off this performance, and Vinay Pathak gives us a cracking one. I’m told that there are two actors who take turns to perform the clown’s role – Vinay Pathak and Atul Kumar. I’d love to watch Atul Kumar’s act too. Having seen him before in Hamlet The Clown Prince, I’m sure he’d rise well to the challenge.

Nothing Like Lear has the same DNA as Hamlet The Clown Prince – the signposts of spoofing Shakespeare, the clowns and the gibberish. But the resembles stops there. Hamlet was breezy, noisy, at times risqué, the kind of play you call a ‘laugh riot’. Nothing Like Lear isn’t out to be funny. The gibberish is toned down, so is the lightness. For all its gags it is at its core a tragedy. Rather different from what I’d expected, but a richly rewarding watch. Nothing like crowd-pleasing hit material, a lot like theatre in superlative form.

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Article by Shuchi

Shuchi lives in Bangalore (mostly), when she isn’t traveling out of town for work. She adores theatre and writes about plays she watches whenever she gets a chance.

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5 Comments to “Review: Nothing Like Lear”

  1. This sounds more like a reinterpretation than a spoof. Having said that I’ve always been hesitant to watch plays “spoofing” Shakespeare. It would be hard to improve on the original.

    June 27th, 2012 6:57 pm

  2. Hi Shuchi,

    Your review is refreshing to say the least. Glad to have come across a real theatre enthusiast such as you. Watched it the day before and here is what i have got to say.

    “Nothing Like Lear”- Directed and Written by Rajat Kapoor, Performed to perfection by Vinay Pathak.
    Your attention dissolves into a lucid dream as the totem endlessly swings on. Though abstract at its core, it strives to be contemporary thereby lending itself a poignant appeal.
    Rajat Kapoor, in his own vision brushes off his trademark of sophistication and elegance to the script.
    Vinay Pathak, the man with a million moods swiftly vacillates between the poles of opposing emotions to make you laugh heartily as easily as he makes you feel guilty in the very next moment for even letting it out. If you think that you can just sit back and watch it through, then you are in for a surprise as it is participative to the extent of being interactive. The clown king throws the bait of being dumb and invites suggestions from the crowd concerning the obvious. The unassuming lot among the audience unknowingly jumps to the rescue of an actor struggling with his lines only to be snapped down by a quick witted response. Even while acting, Vinay Pathak is observant and keenly watches your moves to slip in random one liners aimed at the audience taking the scope of entertainment beyond the script. It has been hours since I walked out of the theatre and yet the reassuring opener of the protagonist clings on “It hasn’t started yet”.
    Spell Binding…Riveting…Mesmerizing…Highly Recommended.

    December 2nd, 2012 7:02 am

  3. Hi Nimish,

    Good to know you enjoyed the play and my review. Have you seen Hamlet the Clown Prince? If not you must – I’m sure you’ll love that one too.

    December 11th, 2012 7:15 pm

  4. Hi Shuchi,

    Thanks a lot for your inputs. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch “Hamlet the Clown Prince” yet. Will certainly make it a point to watch it, should it be staged in the city again.

    Read your review of “Bikhre Bimb” and found it inspiring enough to take a decision in affirmative. Have already booked my tickets for the 7.30 pm show at Ranga Shankara on 4th January. Looking forward to experience and admire the hi- tech props along with the usage of our mother tongue in all its eloquence. I have great hopes from the script alone,the reputation of the artists involved notwithstanding.

    Thanks for offering such encouragement to the theatre lovers. Keep writing.

    January 2nd, 2013 11:59 pm

  5. Thanks Nimish. Hope you like the show tomorrow, let us know what you thought of it.

    January 3rd, 2013 7:44 pm

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