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Much Ado About Nothing – Noel Coward Theatre, London

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Iqbal Khan

Reviewer: Sebastian de Montmorency

[rating:4]

Following on from a Julius Caesar that translated extremely effectively to Africa, the second part of the RSC’s 2012 London season sees Iqbal Khan relocates Much Ado About Nothing to a present-day Delhi setting. Meera Syal – a Shakespearean debutant – and Paul Bhattacharjee take on the rôles of Beatrice and Benedick, the ever-sparring couple whose worlds revolve around each other, even if they won’t quite admit it, and what a dizzying, brilliant universe it is in what is surely one of the most visually arresting productions the RSC has come up with.

Contemporary India forms an excellently well-suited backdrop for this version of Messina. The household fits into the strictures of Indian society very neatly – concepts of honour, arranged marriages, fatherly anger and a sub-class of servants all making perfect sense – and the returning soldiers are UN peacekeeping corps. But perhaps surprisingly, the text remains largely intact in Khan’s hands and little has been altered to fit the overall vision.

Tom Piper’s clever set allows for some glorious moments that fully exploit the Indian setting. Niraj Chag’s music helps make the masked ball and pre-wedding scenes an exhilarating delight, the public nature of that wedding with its microphone magnifies its humiliating effect, the haunting song and visual that accompanies the funeral breath-taking. But a production that lasts well over three hours also has its longueurs, pace frequently goes missing in the second half and an over-reliance on puerile gags undermines the clever humour that is evident elsewhere.

Meera Syal is a somewhat mournful Beatrice, a little too much so as it dampens the initial chemistry with Paul Bhattacharjee’s wonderfully prattish Benedick – they only really come alive together late on. Amara Karan makes a spirited fist of Hero while Sagar Arya’s nervy Claudio makes the best of a weak character, watch out for the scene-stealing antics of Anjana Vasan’s maid though. And the cumulative effect of the ensemble work – superbly augmented by the evocative score – becomes rather irresistible, a warmly vibrant slice of life and a timely reminder from the RSC about the depth of British–Asian acting talent.

Runs until 27th October

 

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