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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon


  Amara Karan, Madhav Sharma and Meera Syal/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

Just because the Summer Olympics are over, that doesn't mean its time to halt the World Shakespeare Festival, the epic celebration of the Bard that has been the Cultural Olympiad’s core event. The WSF kicked off very enjoyably back in the spring at Shakespeare's Globe, with troupes whizzing in from all over the planet. The Royal Shakespeare Company (though overseeing the festival) has been slower out of the blocks with its own Stratford-upon-Avon and West End production. With high standards expected, too, some of its pioneering collaborations with companies from abroad have disappointed.
However, it is pursuing a second way of "going international" for the WSF: setting Shakespeare's plays in distant lands and casting British actors of other-than-WASP stock. A brilliant Julius Caesar, translated to modern Africa by director Gregory Doran, is now being followed by the romantic comedy Much Ado, relocated to India today and staged by the fast-rising Iqbal Khan.
Unfortunately, this proves hit and miss. On the upside, Khan’s ensemble exudes relaxed warmth at first, milling around a sun-drenched courtyard outside Leonato’s family home, its arched windows decorated with ornate grilles. The well-to-do widower (played by Madhav Sharma) is preparing a party for his houseguests, Paul Bhattacharjee’s Benedick and fellow soldiers who are back from a war zone, sporting blue U.N. berets. In later scenes, the costumes become increasingly gorgeous, as Westernised dress gives way to embroidered silk turbans and robes, with spangled saris for the women, glowing red and gold.
Incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised if composer Niraj Chag –who supplies a fusion of traditional and funky music – wrote a hit musical soon.
The snag with Much Ado is that the acting is uneven in calibre, many of the cast members having had few previous chances to perform Shakespeare. Moreover, Meera Syal, as Benedick’s old flame Beatrice, often seems more sour than amusing. Maybe that is a brave choice, running counter to Syal’s roots in sketch comedy. Still, the production seems charmless for a long stretch as a result, even if the gangly, greying Bhattacharjee is doing his best to be affably droll.
When this play turns dark midway through, the Indian setting gains resonance sharply. Khan points up the uncertain limits of women’s liberties in Leonato’s household. The old patriarch, too readily believing his daughter Hero is unchaste, appears to wish a punitive honour killing on her, crying, “Death is the fairest cover for her shame.”
Her jealous and misled fiancé Claudio (Sagar Ayra) is also meant to come across as a potentially brutal young man, with violent tendencies encouraged by military service. Yet Arya is never genuinely frightening.
That said, this production – transferring from Stratford to London’s Noel Coward Theatre in mid-September – may well become more seasoned and enjoyable given time.


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