Iqbal Khan’s bright, bold production of this Shakespearean romantic comedy transports his audience to the modern Delhi of its setting with the fun of a chaotic family, a lot of confusion, shouting and blaring traffic noises. But as the play’s humour, music and mishaps roll on, it misses a few tricks that make it feel more like a Shakespeare play coated in India rather than a Shakespeare play rising up out of an Indian setting.
Meera Syal makes a perfect Beatrice, all sass and confrontation born from her wit and maternal instincts towards her cousin Hero. She makes Beatrice’s childish mischief fit seamlessly into the banter and gossip. But while Paul Bhattacharjee’s impressive Benedick is hilarious in disguise and fantastic at wielding his power and influence, when he comes to play Benedick the rascal, he doesn’t quite pull it off.
In a very clever move by Khan, Benedick enters the play as an official in the Indian branch of a UN peacekeeping unit. His familiar beret, indicative aviator sunglasses and heavy boots establish a strong, respected man but that’s lost as Benedick’s attempts at making Beatrice blush take on a silly tone which Bhattacharjee simply doesn’t make believeable. Were he to perform his lines with a more intimidating edge, I think we might see something more unique from this portrayal of Benedick and one more fitting to the weight of status, hierarchy and bribery in India.
Another missed oportunity is Hero’s defamation and the importance of marriage in India. With marriage used as a social tool, the consequences of being humiliated in the way Hero is, would be disastrous and the tone of what’s happening as it’s happening isn’t conveyed particularly well. This becomes even more apparent during the funeral scene which is immensely powerful, perfectly staged and creates an inescapable atmosphere of grief, not just for the life lost but over the needless misconduct at the heart of it. The delay in creating this atmosphere and urgency means the play loses pace.
That said, if we take this version of Much Ado About Nothing for what it is, a big loud, funny West End show, we have a great night out full of fantastic music, excellent (often tongue-in-cheek) dancing and comedy by the bucket-load. Intonation, and mannerisms have the subcontinent at heart and the banter is transported perfectly. Add to that Tom Piper’s perfect set and Niraj Chag’s fantastic music and this is exactly what the West End is for. But I can’t help feeling it could be so much more.
Image by Ellie Kurttz