By George: Play Review

For well-meaning theatre audiences, however much in the minority, what could be more heartening that a fine blend of Shaw and Shah throwing open the floodgates of theatrical possibilities. Without the customary tribute to Motley’s earlier English adaptations, Sudhir Raikar takes an earnest look at the latest production ‘By George’

Apr 18, 2011 10:04 IST India Infoline News Service

Motley’s ‘By George’ - Fun with Mr. Shaw

Directed by Naseeruddin Shah

Co-directors: Ratna Pathak Shah & Kenny Desai

Producer: Jairaj Patil

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Actor-director Naseeruddin Shah’s long-standing and deep admiration for the Nobel Laureate playwright George Bernard Shaw comes as no surprise. The latter’s versatility and humour reflect the same mutinous spirit that has defined most of Shah’s offbeat accomplishments, an actor known as much for his maverick ways as for his brilliant stage and screen portrayals.

For someone who finds in Othello a racist fool and not the tragic hero worshipped worldwide, Shaw’s prelude to his one-act comedy ‘How He Lied To Her Husband’ would have struck, more than a chord, instant accord.

“Nothing in theatre is staler than the situation of husband, wife and lover, or the fun of knockabout farce ... I have taken both, and got an original play out of them, as anybody else can if only he looks about him for his material instead of plagiarizing Othello and the thousand plays that have proceeded on Othello's romantic assumptions and false point of honour."  

One wonders whether this pithy preface, among other things, enthused Shah to include “How he Lied...” in his Shavian assortment aptly titled ‘By George’, the other two delicacies being the wistful play Village Wooing and the verse English Pronunciation. 

The highlight of the mixed bag is ‘Village Wooing’, a play that unfolds Shaw’s wrapped wit and veiled gospels through the superb chemistry of Faisal Rashid and Aahana Kumra. Both artistes, with their scrupulous speech and subtle gestures, in line with the intrinsic demands of Shaw’s script, gradually take the peel off the core thought: how even the most reluctant of man-woman conversations, laden with incessant bickering and accusation, could actually culminate into measured matrimony defying all norms of love and courtship. A minimal but colourful set makes the drama seamlessly faithful to the bygone period, right from the cruise ship to the village shop where our hero and heroine meet, greet and treat each other.

In contrast, ‘How He Lied...’ fails to do justice to Shaw’s ingenuity in his anti-romantic treatment of a clichéd love triangle. While Kenny Desai is convincing in parts as the gullible, blabbering husband Teddy, Trishla Patel and Anand Tiwari proceed on a tangent far away from Shaw’s hilarious creations: the unduly pompous Aurora Bompas and the handsome, reckless Henry Apjohn. Patel is monotonous in her outbursts yelling ‘Georginaaaaaa’ from time to time while Tiwari jumps all over the place, his loud gestures clearly devoid of the intended effect. As a result, most of the applause is for the slapstick, not the underlying humour of the potent characters.

Kenny Desai serves an ace through his unique rendering of the deliberately verbose English Pronunciation, Shaw’s amusing take on the vagaries of English spelling and diction. Academic arguments on the best way of presenting this wordy creation are easy to make, but not the actual demonstration. But Kenny makes it look so easy with a superb performance, ably assisted by a screen that flashes the peculiarities of handpicked words. Desai’s inclusive tone makes his recital special, recounting the beauty of the verse along with the audience, not on their behalf. Wish at least a few schools, colleges and universities take a cue from this collaborative feat of making the didactic seem extremely delightful: courtesy the inventive trio of Shaw, Shah and Desai. 

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