Review: Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night) (The Company Theatre)

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Shakespeare classic gets a Diwali-themed makeover in Piya Behrupiya, on stage in Toronto

I arrived at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts to see The Company Theatre’s production of Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night) on a dark, cold, and gloomy evening. But once I was inside, I was surrounded by colour, warmth, and joy.

Piya Behrupiya is being co-produced by Why Not Theatre and Soulpepper in celebration of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, and it certainly brightened my day. 

Piya Behrupiya takes Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and transforms it into an evening of Bollywood style music and dance. The play is performed in Hindi with English surtitles projected on the sides of the stage. It features classic Shakespearean comedy elements of twins separated at a young age who each believe the other is dead, men disguised as women leading to mistaken identity and misplaced affections, and servants sending up pompous and cruel masters. It’s a convoluted, madcap, and very fun confusion of activity.

I do not speak Hindi and am not very familiar with Indian culture or Bollywood. And I have to admit that I was a little lost for much of the performance. The surtitles helped, but not everything was translated. In particular, none of the many musical numbers were. I clearly was missing out on cultural references and many of the jokes. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, a testament to the strength of the performance.

The performers were all excellent. Their broad, physical comedy needed no translation. Every facial expression and change in tone of voice effectively conveyed the humour of the situation. I especially enjoyed Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) who fluidly switched from boyish servant to love-struck girl. Uncle Toby (Gagan Riar) and Maria (Trupti Khamkar) had great chemistry as the leaders of a plot to trick the pompous Malvolio (Saurabh Nayyar). Feste (Neha Saraf) struck just the right note as the fool who actually knows more than the higher-ups.

All of the actors are on stage for the entire show. When not featured in the action downstage, they are seated on a raised platform upstage. They are joined by three musicians and serve as a chorus, frequently interjecting, commenting, and joining in the singing. The music and dancing were infectious. Everyone, both on stage and in the audience, seemed to be having a fantastic time.

The play was also visually very beautiful: An explosion of colour which stood out against the black of the stage. The costumes are profusion of bright orange, purple, turquoise, and red. Looming overhead is a giant portrait of William Shakespeare as a Hindu deity emerging from a lotus blossom.

My one complaint was the projections of the English surtitles. They were frequently hard to read. And their placement at the sides of the stage meant I spent a lot of time looking away from the action.

If you speak Hindi, this won’t be an issue for you. But for other non-Hindi speakers, my companion had a few tips for getting the most out of the Piya Behrupiya.

First – read the plot of Twelfth Night on Wikipedia before you come. Shakespearean comedy can be confusing even when you understand the dialogue, so it helps to know what to expect. Second – get there in time to read the program so you can figure out which actor is which character. Third – accept that you are not going to get every plot point or joke and just sit back and lose yourself in the performance. It’s a ton of fun.

Details:

  • Piya Behrupiya is playing at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) in the Distillery District
  • Performances are October 27, 28 and 29, 2016 at 8pm, with a 2pm performance on Saturday.
  • Tickets start at $25 and are available online or at the box office.
  • The play is performed in Hindi with English surtitled projections

Photo of Mansi Multani and Geetanjali Kulkarni by The Company Theatre