Much Ado About Meera

See Much Ado About Nothing at the RSC. You will have a brilliant time. End of story.

From entering the foyer of the courtyard theatre, packed to the rafters with fairy lights, bicycles and an intoxicating mixture of bhajis and joss sticks, to the final, euphoric applause this beautiful production, starring Meera Syal, was exciting and involving, and if I wasn’t so damned British I would have been dancing in the aisles by the end of the show. Since the plots of Shakespeare’s plays are so well known it is not often that a production can really shock (and delight) its audience in the way managed by this production.

On reading Michael Billington’s Guardian review (which called the production “frenetic and overspiced”, giving it a pitiful three stars (see Guardian Review)) I couldn’t help but think that he is a man who needs to relax and have some fun. Despite its running time, this production was fast-paced and engrossing. When Billington complains that “many lines are rushed or buried under an endless procession of sight gags”, I have to flatly disagree. There were visual jokes, but yet, strangely enough, the actors also managed to speak their lines. I am bemused; perhaps Billington wanted the cast to stand still and recite with one arm raised in a classical pose. Clearly what Billington wanted was an old-fashioned, austere version of this comedy with all its pace and fun drained out by catheter.

Iqbal Khan’s production, set in Delhi is modern, and sexy, and full of joy. The relationship between Meera Syal’s Beatrice and Paul Bhattacharee’s Benedict was brilliantly believable and the most amusing rendering of Shakespeare’s witty dialogue that I have ever enjoyed at the theatre. Surely Syal will go down in history as an iconic Beatrice. The age gap between Hero and Beatrice was effective as it added a hint of the maternal to Beatrice’s fierce protection of her cousin. When Bhattacharee’s Benedict decided that he could love Beatrice, he also grew up, and his maturity revealed Claudio’s youthful posturing as offensive and puerile. This was another strength of the production: it did not brush under the carpet the truly unpleasant aspects of this play.

I don’t want to give too much of this must-see production away, but for the record, you’re wrong Michael Billington, the mobile phone bit was great.

Image from the RSC


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