Paul Fulford reviews the latest RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing.
MANY and various are the novelty settings for Shakespeare’s plays. Many and various are the disasters as ill-advised directors contort words and action into a setting that makes about as much sense as a Hattie Jacques trying to squeeze into one of Twiggy’s frocks. Here, though, an Indian setting of Much Ado About Nothing makes perfect sense – not only illuminating the text, but creating a thoroughly entertaining experience. Which ticks the boxes that should be ticked by any Shakespeare production.
The sexual politics of the play are well served by this interpretation – the women allowed a degree of freedom and feistiness, but ultimately subject to the suffocating and brutal rules of the patriarchal society in which they live. The spellbinding Amara Karan is an unusually strong-willed Hero, full of fun, desire and a steeliness of character until she, too, bows to the pressures of the unforgiving world she inhabits. Meera Syal is a mischievous, sharp-witted and engaging (no pun meant) Beatrice who, like Hero, ultimately conforms… though not without first uttering an expletive or two. Paul Bhattacharjee is confused and torn as Benedick, uneasy in the company of his macho compatriots.
And thus amid the colour, verve, spirit and humour of this production there are distinct shades of darkness. Witness, for instance, the dismissive, at times irritated treatment of the comedic but forlorn servant girl, a poignant and lost figure amid the hubbub. Few liberties are taken with the text – there are subcontinental references, but they add to flow and understanding rather than jar. Though, on occasions, delivery is a little hesitant and indistinct. But this is a small criticism of director Iqbal Khan’s production whose three hours’ running time flies by.
The production runs from September 24 until October 27 at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. I may well hop on a train down to the smoke for a second helping.