Much Ado About Nothing: The Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (From Asian Image)
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Much Ado About Nothing: The Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford’s new Much Ado About Nothing, that a big flash Indian wedding would be supplied to delight the audience. Director Iqbal Khan duly obliges. The stage of the Courtyard Theatre explodes into colour with festoons of orange flowers and gorgeous fabrics for the nuptials of Claudio (Sagar Arya) and the lovely Hero (Amara Karan). As at the earlier masked dance, the insistent rhythms and plangent melodies of Niraj Chag’s music add hugely to the sense of occasion.
How much more affecting, because of this build up, is the dreadful shock that follows. Hero, having been outrageously ‘framed’ as a whore through the plotting of villainous Don John (Oxford School of Drama alumnus Gary Pillai), is cruelly rejected by her fiancé as the ceremony gets under way.
The reaction of her father Leonato (Madhav Sharma), who believes her guilty as charged, points up an unsettling parallel between events in the play and practices still associated with at least some Asian communities.
His vehement wish to see her dead (“Death is the fairest cover for her shame”), and his willingness to do the deed himself, cannot fail to have resonances with the disgraceful honour killings of today.
Similarly, members of the audience are likely to think at once of the much-criticised tradition of arranged marriage as they see Claudio’s easy acquiescence to Leonato’s later demand that with Hero presumed dead, but now exonerated, he must make amends by marrying her (fictional) cousin.
A more happy comparison might be noted where the play’s principal characters are concerned. In the delightful verbal jousting of Beatrice (the wonderful Meera Syal) and Benedick (Paul Bhattacharjee) can be seen — as a programme note points out — something of the playful banter between lovers (nok-jhok) enjoyed by fans of Bollywood romance.
The progress of their relationship from mutual (if perhaps affected) loathing to shared contentment in a loving relationship not likely, we suppose, to be very peaceful is, as ever, a joy to watch. So, too, is the gulling of each by their friends, led by the wily bachelor Don Pedro (Shiv Grewal), into believing that she/he is deeply loved by the other.
Less satisfactorily transported to Delhi are Dogberry (Simon Nagra) and his fellow members of the Watch. The word-mangling buffoon is such a quintessentially English character, I feel, that his transformation into a fussing senior servant in Leonato’s household, which is how we first meet him here, seems wrong. In fact, we encounter him even before the play begins, when his two announcements to the audience concerning the use of mobiles and “laptoppings” are rather funnier (and rather easier to understand) than anything he has to say later.
Very much later, in the case of some of his speeches, for at nearly three-and-a-half hours (on press night) this is an over-long night of comedy.
Performances continue in Stratford until September 15 (0844 800 1110, www.rsc.org.uk). The play can be seen at the Noël Coward Theatre, London, from September 22 to October 28 (0844 482 5141).