Much Ado About Nothing Review
When you think about it, the transposition of Much Ado About Nothing from medieval Sicily to modern day Delhi is nothing if not logical. The new setting makes sense of the traditional values, the importance of honour, the rituals and displays. As director Iqbal Khan says: “Delhi is about as Elizabethan a place as you could find in the modern-day world.” Sensibly, no attempt is made to hide the fact that this is modern Delhi, and this is clear from the moment we walk in, before the play proper has even started.
The set – a palace courtyard complete with tree and swing – is draped with fire-hazard electricity cables, soldiers in combat gear and sunglasses saunter, cigarette in mouth, hawkers shout over the cacophony of car horns.
The other thing that sits beautifully is, somewhat surprisingly, the language. Much Ado is one of the few Shakespearian plays to be written mainly in prose; despite this the dialogue has a rhythm and cadence which is highlighted by the sing-song musicality of the Indian English. The flowery verbosity of the characters also sounds very natural.
The characters are convincing and entertaining. Special mention of course must go to the fabulous Meera Syal; a feisty, likeable Beatrice, whose occasional flashes of vulnerability allow us to glimpse the insecurities behind the laughing eyes. She is ably matched by Paul Bhattacharjee, whose Benedick, despite wonderfully comic facial expressions, is a much more complex and layered character than the bumbling clown he is sometimes reduced to. Sagar Ayra is the stupid, shallow Claudio; his denouncement of his bride in the middle of their wedding, speaking directly to the audience using a microphone was effective and chilling. Amara Khan brought unusual fire to the character of Hero, his wronged bride.
Less effective was Madhau Sharma as Leonato, Hero’s father. Instead of rampaging around the stage in an outraged frenzy upon discovering his daughter’s “defilement”, he merely seems mildly peeved. His wonderful, bombastic lines, such as
“salt too little which may season give,
To her foul-tainted flesh!”
were delivered in a gentle grumble, like a pensioner who has failed to secure a seat on the bus. He did appear to have a head cold though, so maybe that was why.
The members of “The Watch” – never the funniest of Shakespeare’s goons – somehow managed to be even more excruciatingly awkward than usual, brandishing what looked like egg whisks and spatulas (why?) as they bumbled around getting in everyone’s way.
Also missing was the sudden thrill of darkness one expects when Beatrice utters the words: “Kill Claudio”. Instead of embracing the changes in tempo of the script, Khan has opted to keep the mood and tone light throughout, excepting only the tragic marriage scene. This made for a very enjoyable and feel-good evening, but one did feel something was slightly lacking.
Overall though, Much Ado is a delight. It is a visual banquet with sumptuous colours and fabrics, fantastic dance sequences and a wonderful score by Niraj Chag, which effortlessly transforms Shakespeare’s Hey Nonny Nonnies into hand-drumming bhangra. The choreography is sharp, the production slick and the laughs pretty much non-stop. Just sit back, and enjoy.
Much Ado About Nothing Review by Genni Trickett
Our interview with Iqbal Khan in February of this year.
Noel Coward Theatre
St Martins Lane
Wednesday 3rd October 2012