We open in a quiet house attended to by a staff of young women. One by one each character transitions from performing mundane chores to a lively dance choreography depicting a brief and welcomed distraction for the workers in an otherwise bleak house of mourning (choreographer Poonam Sandhu).
While Bertram is away his wily and somewhat dim acquaintance Parolles (Jeff Gladstone), begins a long string of follies with his attempt to seduce Helena. Here we gain valuable insight into the depth of conviction of Helena, and Parolles is far out matched. Parmar and Gladstone have palpable chemistry and each embrace their dialogue as though they were experiencing it for the first time in full articulate expression: we almost didn’t need to hear the words to know what they were saying.
The blocking of the scenes plays a valuable role in audience comprehension allowing the actors to play to the entire audience rather than a select few front and centre.
Not long after the arrival of Bertram, Lafeu approaches the ailing Viceroy with the claim that he knows of a young woman who might have a cure for his affliction. Cuffling is hugely convincing as the partially crippled Viceroy, lounging painfully on his portable chaise.
Lafeu produces none other than Helena with a bag of her father’s medicines. She quickly strikes a deal with the Viceroy. She is promised that if she is successful she will be granted the husband of her choice. If she fails, she will die along side the Viceroy. From behind the healing curtain Cuffling transforms from a limping, grumpy, deteriorating old man to a virile, agile ruler in full regalia.
Bertram has done his duty but wants out in a big way. Sure he is a classist cad but one can't help but feel a modicum of sympathy for him as yet another of Shakespeare’s voiceless oppressed. He devises a scheme to rid himself of his wife: the only way he will bed her and validate the marriage is if she can give him a son of his own making. Catch-22 and off he flees to hide among the skirmishes of war.
Helena is sent into a spiraling depression believing it is her fault Bertram is now in harm’s way. She steals away in the throws of sorrow and is presumed dead.
Helena comes to a village where she meets a widow (Veenesh Dubois) and her daughter Diana (Pam Patel). It is through these women that she discovers Bertram’s whereabouts for it comes to light that he has been stealthily pursuing Diana. Together with the widow and Diana, Helena devises a plan to ensnare Bertram.
Diana agrees to sleep with Bertram and asks for his heirloom ring as proof of his commitment to her. Under the veil of night Helena replaces Diana in the bed chamber and offers Bertram her own ring, which he readily wears.
Bertram returns home and is followed by Diana who exposes his deviant behaviour. He dismisses her claims but the rings are produced as evidence and later Helena herself materializes to expose his deceit. Her final trump card, a child in the making, seals the deal and brings him to his knees. Bertram sees the error of his ways, vows eternal dedication, and all ends well, or so we assume.
As mentioned earlier on this play is set in India at a time where anything and everything is extremely volatile. The British are leaving, Partition is on the horizon and tensions are high. We are left with Helena as she is pulled in three directions. Hands are outstretched, eye are pleading. Is there a way for this to end well for her?
There are beautifully sung songs and many hilarious antics to break the many tensions of the drama. Men are good and men are bad, and the women must think on their feet if they are to survive. This is one of the most ambitious and interesting renditions of Shakespeare’s play in a while, and though portions of Act 2 are in a foreign language you may miss out on some of the subtler nuances but you are able to understand the over all content just the same.
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