Like many others so far in Globe to Globe, the Gujarati company Arpana adapted Shakespeare’s play into its home culture, rather than straightforwardly performing it as a Western European-based story. I’ve enjoyed these kinds of productions better, with the exception of the histories (not because the histories are an untouchable work of genius – although they TOTALLY ARE – but because a sense of continuity is crucial for their stories).
All photos (c) Ellie Kurttz
Arpana not only made changes to fit the new context of south Asia circa 1900, as with the Maori Troilus and Cressida or the Hindi Twelfth Night, but added a conflict between traditional culture and Westernising influence, and between conscience and capitalism (oh yes). Rather than running away to war, Bharatram (Bertram, Chirag Vora) wanted to go into business. The King of France character, Rao Bahadur Gokuldas (Utkarsh Mazumdar), was an affluent businessman rather than a hereditary monarch, and the Thuwang (the Widow, Natasha Singh) and Alkini (Diana, Nishi Doshi) were canny opium traders, not winsome innkeepers.
Bharatram attempted to coerce Alkini into sex by threatening to withdraw his trade from her company, noting that England has banned the opium trade. (The host country came in for a lot of flak that night, as Gokuldas also made a joke about the uselessness of English doctors before he was healed.)
Within the framework of this contextual adjustment, the interpersonal relationships remained surprisingly similar. Heli (Helena, Mansi Parekh)’s foster-family relationship with the Kunti (the Countess, Meenal Patel) and Bharatram was the same, as was the not-quite-paternal relationship between Gokuldas and both Heli and Bharatram. Heli and Alkini’s friendship was amplified. As it was not only Alkini’s person but her business and livelihood at risk, her willingness to get on board with Heli’s plot was even more generous.
Mansi Parekh was a perfect Heli, conveying both her deep, quiet love for Bharatram and her blithe, almost reckless commitment to her not-actually-very-thought-through plans. She had several skilled and moving singing solos, replacing her excellent monologues in Shakespeare’s text.
It was the Parolles character, Parbat Maharaj (Satchit Puranik) who was transformed the most. His whole side plot about the drum was excised completely, as was his rivalry with Lafeu, who became Laffabhai (Archan Trivedi), the narrator/emcee of the musical produciton. Parbat was more a Jason Segal figure, who encouraged Bharatram to run off to cosmopolitan Bombay because to him, marriage is the death of male friendship – the only kind of relationship worth having.
He also shouldered some of Shakespeare’s Bertram’s more unsympathetic aspects: Parbat, not Bharatram, coerced Alkini into agreeing to sex with the latter, and even in the first scene, instead of lightly teasing Heli about romance, Parbat aggressively warned her away from a relationship with his friend.
This allowed Bharatram a more understandable arc. The hard sell with All’s Well is that Helena is delightful and Bertram is in the running with Claudio and Demetrius for the douchiest “romantic” lead in the canon. In Arpana’s production, Parbat and Bharatram were just an immature pair of dudebros, and much of Bharatram’s more dickish actions could be attributed to Parbat’s thoughtless peer pressure.
Neither Parbat nor Bharatram understood how to relate to people, nor how the world worked. Bharatram was stuck in his teenage years, dismissive of his mother and starry-eyed about his influential uncle – only to run off again to Rangoon the minute Gokuldas told how to succeed in business: stay put and build from the ground up, not dash off to engage in risky, dubiously legal overseas venture capitalism. Their costumes became more Western throughout the play, as they were seduced by the glitz and glamour of Westernised cities (they also sang a catchy uptempo song about Bombay, along the lines of “It’s a heck of a town”).
Bharatram and Heli actually seemed to have a shot at happiness after the play, as his revelation of her love and commitment to him was like a thunderbolt of instant maturity. He wasn’t irreparably awful, just insecure and very young.
What made the evening really special was the involvement of the audience, who got straight into the play and didn’t get out until the curtain call was finished. Heli was cheered at the end of her songs, when she appeared in her wedding sari, and whenever she was particularly aggressive in her plotting (which was often). Bharatram and Parbat were booed nearly as much, particularly after Bharatram appeared onstage to read his letter to Heli setting out the impossible conditions of their reconciliation. And in the final scene, when Heli nervously put her arms around Bharatram and he spontaneously and joyfully embraced her back, the applause was tremendous.
I saw Globe to Globe’s All’s Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare’s Globe on May 24, 2012.