Desi adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night comes to Dubai

We meet the cast of Piya Behrupiya, a quirky and colourful Indian adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that comes to Dubai this weekend after staging 100 successful shows all over the world.

Actors Amitosh Nagpal and Mansi Multani performing onstage. Courtesy Ductac
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Set in colonial times in a fictitious Indian town, Piya Behrupiya is a colourful desi reboot of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. This kitschy stage production was originally commissioned by London's Globe Theatre and finally makes its Middle Eastern debut in Dubai this weekend.

The play is a collaboration ­between Dubai’s Tall Tales Production and Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre.

“We were looking for an all-round production that would give Dubai something it had not experienced before,” says Asad Raza Khan, a co-founder of Tall Tales. “Piya Behrupiya is that perfect mix of music and theatrical elements, and caters to all ages and ethnicities. It is a play that is a true reflection of Dubai’s multicultural set-up.”

The two-hour production keeps the storyline of Shakespeare’s original comedy – about twins who are separated when their ship is wrecked. But the script is written in English, Hindi and Punjabi, blurring the lines between classical English and regional Indian theatre, while the musical score feature songs from rural India – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. The sets and costumes evoke a feeling of colonial India in the early and mid-1900s in all its pomp and glory.

In 2012, the Globe Theatre commissioned Mumbai’s The Company Theatre to work on an Indian adaptation of a work by Shakespeare. The company chose Twelfth Night, and veteran theatre actor/director Atul Kumar was put in charge. The fact that it staged its 100th show in Chile a few weeks ago is a testament to how popular Piya Behrupiya is with audiences all over the world.

“It’s been a long journey – from the selection process to acting workshops to the staging of the hundredth show,” says Geetanjali Kulkarni, a graduate of India’s National School of Drama, who portrays Viola (the Indian actor and screenwriter Amitosh Nagpal plays Sebastian).

“Initially we didn’t know whether it will be accepted or not. Now we know that people love it, so naturally we are more confident. We still rehearse before every run, so we keep on developing our character. Our director always gives us challenges, which has kept us on our toes.”

“I think Dubai audiences will have a great time,” says Mansi Multani, an actor, singer and dancer, who takes on the role of Countess Olivia. “I lived there for a short while a few years ago and I think their musical and cultural tastes will completely find their place in this play. After a hundred shows, the production has a life of it own. This has given me the opportunity to explore and fine tune, add and subtract and most importantly, play.”

When asked about public reaction since the play first made its debut two years ago, Multani says: “The audience reaction varies, based on their cultural upbringing and understanding of what they see and how they appreciate. Shakespeare’s plays can be interpreted in innumerable ways and that is why this play is so well received everywhere we go.” Kulkarni agrees. “People react differently because of the language and the context, but overall they like the energy.” she says.

“The secret of its success is the manner in which the script has been adapted,” says Multani. “The ‘Indianisation’ has hit home with expat audiences all over the world. The multilingual songs are part of the attraction, too. We have such a good time performing this play that the energy has become infectious. It is overwhelming to know that we’ve accomplished 100 shows in India, the United Kingdom, Singapore, China, Chile – and now we are coming to Dubai.”

Piya Behrupiya will be staged at Centrepoint Theatre at Ductac on February 6 at 7.30pm and on February 7 at 3.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost from Dh150 and are available at the Ductac box office and