Iqbal Khan's India-set RSC production of 'Much Ado…' is a fine note to finish this year's phenomenal World Shakespeare Festival on: a heartfelt cry that some things need to be taken seriously.
Here Dehli is almost entirely ado; a city of car horns and bustle. Kahn makes it a colour-splashed jumble of old and new, tradition and technology. A tree is tangled with telephone wires. Saris sit alongside iPads.
Usually played as proud and pompous, here sparring flirts Beatrice and Benedick become incessant comedians, incapable of sincerity. Meera Syal tenderly suggests a spinsterish sadness beneath Beatrice, but by dropping Benedick's grandiosity, Paul Bhattacharjee somewhat undoes the comedy of his being fooled into love.
Some contrived set-pieces mean the first half underwhelms, but the second surges into scorched melancholy as Benedick's comrade Claudio aborts his marriage to sweetheart Hero, believing her unfaithful. Khan really draws out
the play's heartache and rancour. Flippancy and love don't mix, and Benedick's eventual, earnest declaration buckles Beatrice's knees. A smart reading, and one that comes to soar.
Great work, too, from Gary Pillai as a scorned Don John, while Sagar Arya and Amara Karan make Claudio and Hero far more than bland saps.