Schizophrenic Endeavour

The theatre of the absurd mingles with episodic formulation, sometimes coherently threaded by a known theme but other than that, unintelligible in its interpretation. This is my conclusion after watching Shakespeare Schizophrenia.

Spoofing Shakespeare’s plays and adding elements of The Black Adder (made famous by Rowan Atkinson) would have been a lot less confusing if the play had stuck to either comic lampooning or satiric humour instead of desperately trying to induce laughter via canned jokes and predictable ripostes.

The play starts well, with a rather comic rendition of a banquet reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Pavanjeet’s flapping-tongue fool Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh; otherwise known as Black Adder commiserates rather well with Kiran Dev’s grave and solemn Richard, Duke of York (who became Richard IV at the demise of David Lim’s Richard Ill) and the chirpy-cowboy Harry, Prince of Wales (Alvin Wong). It seems to be going along the lines of tragi-comedy; with battles fought and the fumbling of Black Adder and his sidekick Baldrick that lead to the manslaughter of Richard Ill. From then onwards, absurdity takes over, with hilarious expressions on the faces of the characters as they engage in lively bantering over the beheaded king. After the coronation of a new king, Richard IV, it is harder to follow the direction the play is going. But this is when the meshing and interpolation of characters from other Shakespearean plays takes place.

There are Iago from Othello, Lady Macbeth and the three witches from Macbeth, Portia and Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, Ophelia and Hamlet from Hamlet. What puzzles me is the inclusion of Dr Samuel Johnson, who is an improbability within the realm of Shakespeare’s imaginary characters, but that would matter little if his inclusion was more justified. The ingenious interactions of the characters would be better negotiated if the scenes did not seem so much like fillers for want of a better plot. Take for example the brassiere fetish of Dr Johnson, or the deliberate stretching of sentences by Baldrick in an attempt to sound funny.

The second half of the play has little connection with the first half. Initially, the audience is shown the burning up of Dr Johnson’s dictionary, but it suddenly turned out to be the manuscript of Black Adder himself with no references as to how the conclusion is reached. The second half sees the noble King Richard Ill relegated to nothing more than a messenger from Hell. The new King (who was supposed to have become a fool in exchange for Black Adder’s wit during the first half), seemed none the worse, and there is no longer a distinction as to what they are actually supposed to be. But there are good parts that compensated for its structural weakness, when the characters are actually funny without being over-zealous, like in the scene where Dr Johnson tries to sell the worth of his dictionary to the king, putting up with pedantic interruptions from the Black Adder. The play ends with little clarity in its objective and an anti-denouement.

The cast tried hard and they are rather good as individual characters, though that did not succeed in giving a wholesome cohesiveness to the play. Some of them lapsed into Malaysianess towards the end, belying their earlier attempts at British and German accentuations. Farah Amin, together with Jing Wei, were good in their respective roles as the Spanish lnfanta and Don Speekengleesh. Pavanjeet almost reminded me of the Black Adder (minus the elastic facial expressions), Amelia is convincing as the horny queen and the rest of the cast were commendable in each of their supporting roles.

It is an ambitious play that could do with a tad of restraint and some editing, but the passions of the actors was obvious.


First Published: 23.04.2002 on Kakiseni

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