Much Ado About Nothing (2012): Royal Shakespeare Company, The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
PrMuch Ado About Nothing (2012)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Sagar Arya (Claudio); Paul Bhattacharjee (Benedick); Shiv Grewal (Don Pedro); Simon Nagra (Dogberry); Gary Pillai (Don John); Madhav Sharma (Leonato); Meera Syal (Beatrice).
The first performance of this production took place on 26 July 2012. It played at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon before transferring to the West End's Noel Coward Theatre. It played in Stratford at the same time as Gregory Doran's production of Julius Caesar with an all-black cast. This production was produced with an all-Asian cast and director and was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's contribution to the World Shakespeare Festival, one of the facets of the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
"Garlands, marigolds, bling and bicycles, sounds of car-horns hooting, voices yelling and selling and quarrelling and busy-busy-busy. We are in modern Delhi, and that's only the foyer. Onstage is the calm Mughal dignity of marble arches and a great tree festooned in laundry; overhead the characteristic mad tangle of electrical wiring....The sub-continent suits [the play] brilliantly: a land of tradition and transition, vigour and swagger and intense awareness of rank....Meera Syal is a wonderful Beatrice, blending flippancy, warmth and protective ferocity with a comic talent particularly sublime in the 'gulling' scene, where she lurks behind the tree with her hair in a towel and an Immac moustache on her upper lip. Paul Bhattacharjee is her irresistible Benedick." ~ Libby Purves, "Much Ado about modern Delhi", The Times, 3 August 2012
"In Iqbal Khan's production, Shakespeare's Sicilian setting is abandoned in favour of modern Delhi. It's a bold decision to try to highlight what Khan calls the 'Indianness' of Britain's most famous dramatist. Yet this reimagining, with its somewhat Bollywood textures, manages to reflect interestingly on rituals and gender roles....Syal, appearing for the first time in a professional prodution of Shakespeare, is sparky and engaging. Bhattacharjee sounds like a philosopher, bringing gravity to the weightier moments and an easy generosity to the lighter ones, even if his diction isn't always as good as it should be. The supporting cast is mixed." ~ Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard, 2 August 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 16 - 17
"Bringing Meera Syal to the RSC stage for the first time, relocating Much Ado About Nothing to modern-day India: the latest contribution to the World Shakespeare Festival certainly couldn't be accused of eye-catching qualities. And Tom Piper's ravishing set, almost the star turn in Iqbal Khan's revival, takes an exotic hold on your imagination from the moment you set foot inside the re-opened Courtyard Theatre....But Khan and co get carried away with incidental attempts to innovate. The live music is terrific but there are vulgar interpolations during the watchmen's eavesdropping scene and gimmicky antics, especially during the gulling of Beatrice. What's lacking at the moment is the more boring virtue of delivering the text with clarity, comic confidence and grace. Syal could be fantastic as Beatrice but she's not there yet. It's one of the toughest female roles in the canon: although this scourge of the opposite sex is sniping from the sidelines, all eyes are on her - she has to dominate, get the last word. Playing up the character's melancholy, the actress lends too downbeat a note....Bhattacharjee's incorrigible bachelor - gap-toothed, with distinguished grey hair - is easier to love, nimble-witted but taking his time in holding his own. If the rest of the ensemble could follow his example - unhurried, unflashy yet full of energy - it, and the RSC, would be on to a winner." ~ Dominic Cavendish, "Bollywood Bard needs bedding in", Daily Telegraph, 3 August 2012
"Iqbal Khan's new production, using a British-Asian ensemble, transposes the action to a bustling, postcolonial, modern Delhi. But the result, while vigorously populist, strikes me as frenetic and overspiced. I can see the parallels between Shakespeare's comedy and Bollywood romance, with its arranged marriages and stress on female chastity. But the idea that the play's returning soldiery are members of a UN peacekeeping mission is clearer from the programme than the production....Khan also overlooks a simple fact that strikes any visitor to India - the fastidious precision in the use of the English language. Too many lines are rushed or buried under an endless procession of sight gags: the comic constable Dogberry and his Watch are particular victims of this, and when we got our old friend, on-stage urination, I began to feel the hosepipe pan should be extended to prosthetic penises. The production is at its best when it makes inventive use of the Indian setting, as in Hero's aborted wedding: a spectacularly lavish affair taking place on an inset pavilion designed by Tom Piper and accompanied by stunning music from Niraj Chag; Hero's humiliation is made even worse by the way Sagar Arya's arrogant Claudio denounces her through a hand-held microphone. Meera Syal and Paul Bhattacharjee as Beatrice and Benedick also overcome the production's obstacles to suggest a growing mutual tenderness....There is good work from Gary Pillai as an implicitly gay Don John, and from Amara Khan as an unusually feisty Hero; and, as so often, Shakespeare's humane values overcome directorial excess. But I would urge Khan to pay more attention to narrative and verbal clarity, stop illustrating every single phallic joke and shorten the play's absurdly long three-and-a-quarter hour's running time. With some ruthless editing, this production could still realise its rich Indian potential." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 3 August 2012
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