Iqbal Khan's Indian-themed Much Ado comes to town and it's gratifying to see an Asian-dominated audience. And following on the heels of Gregory Doran's all-black Julius Caesar, the RSC should be congratulated for attracting a broader clientele to its productions.
But one shouldn't think that the Indian-themed production is a marketing gimmick. Khan finds pointed parallels between the themes of the play and Indian society: arranged marriage, the sense of dishonour wrought by a sexually active daughter, the highly stratified social hierarchy - all have resonances in modern India.
Complaints about the long running time of the Stratford production have been taken on board and at just under three hours, it's fast and furious.
Meera Syal and Paul Bhattacharjee are a witty central pair, there's plenty of delight in their wordplay, although I didn't get any sense of any great sexual chemistry – it's more as if two people who delight in railing against the world get together to create mischief rather than go on a voyage of discovery as lovers.
There's some richness from the other cast members too; Madhav Sharma is an impassioned Leonato, fearful for his family's honour and the mess they've fallen into, while Shiv Grewal brings out the prankster in Don Pedro – although I'd have been hard pushed to think of him as an army commander. And Gary Pillai makes for a bitter (and explicitly gay) Don John, a nice line in villainy.
But Simon Nagra's Dogberry doesn't bring out all the humour of the role and underplays many of the malapropisms - his lack of verbal dexterity should contrast with Beatrice and Benedick's wordplay, but that dimension is missing. But then the other great humorous set-piece, where Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into falling in love with other, is poorly handled too.
Khan's production is a generally jolly romp – but not quite jolly enough. It neither explores the social fabric underpinning society nor does it examine the motivation of two of the most notorious commitment-phobes in English literature. However, Tom Piper's imaginative design, Niraj Chag's catchy music and the exuberant performances are a heady mix.
- Maxwell Cooter