The Annette Leday/Keli Company presents Shakespeare’s King Lear through kathakali
Paris-based The Annette Leday/Keli Company is bringing their kathakali adaptation of the bard’s famous tragedy to the city for the first time
Ever imagined Shakespeare’s King Lear walking into the stage in a kathakali attire? Directed by French choreographer Annette Leday and Australian playwright David McRuvie (of The Annette Leday/Keli Company) is bringing their kathakali adaptation of the bard’s famous tragedy to the city for the first time.
Premiered by the team in 1989, with the aattakatha (story) penned by kathakali playwright Kodungallur Marumakan Raja, the show has had successful performances around the world, including one held at the Globe Theatre in London, in 1991.
Talking about the inspiration to bring Shakespeare and kathakali together, Annette says, “Kathakali and the Elizabethan theatre are very different art forms. Adapting a Shakespeare play for kathakali has similar problems and opportunities as adapting a play for ballet or for opera-there will be loss and gain. The key is to choose the right play. Just as Romeo and Juliet has been brilliantly adapted for ballet and Othello for opera, we think King Lear is very suited for kathakali.”
The play lasts one hour and 45 minutes and will feature veteran kathakali artistes — Peesapilly Rajeevan (King Lear), Kalamandalam Manoj Kumar (the fool), Sadanam Bhasi (Goneril) and Kalamandalam Praveen (Cordelia), among others — all from Kerala.
“Unlike Shakespeare’s other plays, King Lear has two parallel stories. By presenting only the central story of Lear and his three daughters, we are having the essence of Shakespeare in a simple but powerful story which is appropriate for kathakali. The themes of the play — kingship, dowry, love story, renunciation of the world, war — are all central kathakali themes,” says Annette, who has learned kathakali in Kerala at Sadanam and Kalamandalam institutions from 1978 to 1984.
While the king will be seen in a kathi vesham (representing villainous characters), the daughters Regan and Goneril will wear kari vesham (used for demonic characters) and Cordelia in minukku vesham (symbolising gentleness). “I wanted to bridge together my knowledge of Western theatre with what I had learned in Kerala. We wanted to explore a new territory in kathakali — but always by keeping to the traditions and spirit of the art form,” says the director, while adding that the percussion instruments used include chengilam (gong), ilattalam (cymbals), chenda and maddalam (both drums). After Chennai, the show will be taken to Mumbai and Pune.
December 8, 7.30 pm.
At Kalakshetra. Entry free.
— Fathima Ashraf