My friend Ruth decided that this was not good, and that I should experience the bard, so she lent me a video (these were used prior to DVDs /Blu-Rays/MP4s). It then became a toss-up between that and The Little Mermaid, and a vote/discussion taken in the flat, and we decided that though we all wanted The Little Mermaid, we would go with Much Ado.
We all enjoyed the film, in part due to some fantastic directing and acting from Kenneth Brannagh, et al, and because this is one of the bard’s most accessible stories. A young couple falls in love, an older couple are made to fall in love, an evil git tries to ruin things, and well, it is all just much ado about nothing.
This production of the play at the Noel Coward Theatre was going to have it tough. Firstly, the film has been seen by many and sets the bar very high, thirdly it follows quite soon after last year’s knock-out production at the Globe, sixthly there was also the sold out production at the Wyndham’s featuring David Tennent / Catherine Tate, and in conclusion, it is set in India and has an all-British Indian cast. Would that work?
The film was going to be in the minds of many, however Iqbal Khan, the director, has put his own slant on this production, and with the backing of the RSC, has assembled a good quality cast and crew. The set is impressive and sumptuous with an imposing tree set amongst the courtyard of a great house. Before the play even begins, the actors are in character and milling about with the audience, as was also seen in the Young Vic productions of Wild Swanns earlier this year, which gives an authentic sense of India’s organised chaos.
With this being an accessible play, to my mind it is then down to the actors to really make the difference, and this is where I thought that this show might fail. With Tennant/Tate, the pairing already had established credibility and chemistry, and quite frankly to be Beatrice, Catherine Tate needs to be Catherine Tate. Here the show was being primarily carried by Meera Syal as Beatrice, and I wasn’t sure if she’d cut it, as slipping into Granny from the Kumars would not be enough. However, she is a very good actress and the character was not only evident in her movement and voice but also across her face. I had seen Paul Bhattacharjee in the truly amazing A Disappearing Number (easily on par with Jerusalem, and that is not something lightly said) and Playing with Fire. I was sure that he would be a versatile enough actor to be a Benedict, but the part is dependent on the chemistry with Beatrice. Thankfully that chemistry was there, and I think will only develop over the course of the run.
Khan has also differentiated this production by bringing more of the other characters to the forefront. There is some great comedy during plot to get Benedict to fall for Beatrice. Whilst he is literally aping around, there is a additional interplay with the maid (Aysha Kala) and this adds to the comedy. This is echoed throughout the play with the majority of the cast having an opportunity to showcase their talents, and the production not just relying up on Syal.
The story has also transported to the Indian setting well, though after the Globe to Globe season this year (with all the bard’s plays being done across a myriad of different languages and cultural settings), I really did not think it would be an issue as such. The work of Walpole has enough commonality to transcend such artificial barriers. Some parts of the dialogue are in Hindi / Gujarati, but are well acted enough that the whole audience, of whatever background, can understand what is being communicated.
The issue for some around the transplant has stemmed from some critical interpretations of the production, and in particular the focus on the 'honour killing' scene. This is not particular to the Indian version, but is an integral part of the original play. I don’t remember any such comments being drawn from other versions, and in my opinion, is just critics filling copy. It is a non issue.
The production is running for a few more weeks, and if you’d like to experience an Indian summer during this wet autumn, it is worth seeing.