Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Much Ado About Nothing - review

Written by: Caroline (@caroveraclare)

Noël Coward Theatre, London

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy with claws; the play balances the satisfaction of seeing Beatrice (Meera Syal) and Benedick (Paul Bhattacharjee) tricked into realising their love with the experience of watching Hero cruelly mistreated by the men around her, as Claudio publically disgraces her on their wedding day. Director Iqbal Khan and his excellent cast have examined the social and gender divisions of the play by setting it in modern Delhi, and Tom Piper’s set makes a great first impression. A tree reaches into the flies in one corner of a courtyard, its branches wreathed in cables and fruiting lanterns and bulbs.  Balconies on three sides, tall windows, wrought metal screens, doorways and arches all create a place with endless potential for eavesdropping.

As the audience settle, actors begin to appear - cleaning the stage, vigorously dusting, folding laundry, chatting with the audience and calling to one another across the auditorium. Two maids (Aysha Kala and Anjana Vasan) hang washing to dry from one of the boxes. This entertaining introduction establishes the servants as sympathetic characters with their own hierarchy, and begins to suggest the social divisions within the play. The household staff are often ignored, so they overhear private conversations; when Benedick wants to pass unnoticed among his friends, he disguises himself as a servant and picks up a broom. It is also clear that the men here have total power over the women: Hero is completely at the mercy of Leonato, Claudio and the Prince, and even Beatrice is aware of pressure from her uncle to hold her tongue in public. Syal’s cry of ‘O that I were a man’ rings true as she longs to challenge Claudio, but is powerless to do so.
Syal’s Beatrice is warm and likeable, fearless in her defence of first Hero and then Margaret. She and Bhattacharjee are two people with a history, who have known one another for a long time. Amara Karan balanced Hero’s obedience with strength throughout her ordeal and there was a tiny moment with her uncle – a refusal to forgive him – that showed a Hero with more backbone than she is usually afforded. The principals are well supported in a balanced cast, and Anjana Vasan’s maid is really excellent - diligent, devoted, largely ignored, and performed with great energy.

The pace of the dialogue meant some of the text was hurried over, a shame in a play with so many battles of sharp wit; but the cast are enjoying themselves which is infectious, and makes the sudden drama of the wedding scene more affecting when it comes. This visually impressive production is not perfect but is strengthened by a cast totally committed to its setting and the issues this raises in the play.

This production runs until 27 October 2012. 
For more information: http://www.london-theatreland.co.uk/theatres/noel-coward-theatre/much-ado-about-nothing.php

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