Shakespeare meets Bollywood in Tarragon Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing in Toronto
To be fair, Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favorites of Shakespeare, and so when it comes around again — as it has at Tarragon — I pounce upon an opportunity to enjoy a new staging. It’s flexible and broadly comic and tends to show the best of an actor, in my experience. Described as “Beatrice and Benedict take on Brampton in this Bollywood-inspired adaptation of Shakespeare’s most clever comedy” and full of the promise of amusing fusion, This version of Much Ado About Nothing delivered on most of its promises in spades.
In the end, I liked many things about the work and had only one critique, so in this case I’ll dispatch it in order to take my time with the productions many charms: the text worked a bit too hard to be clever, especially in the beginning. I am fine with some updating of Shakespeare, certainly, and I have rarely met a mashup I have not been able to enjoy. But it was a little too much with the texting and the ostentatious re-titling of the characters and the other LOOK WE’RE IN BRAMPTON RIGHT DOWN THE ROAD AND THINGS ARE HAPPENING IN MODERN TIMES SEE? We got it. A little goes a long way. Let us enjoy, please.
There is, indeed, a lot to enjoy. The cast is something of a Toronto Theatre dream team, with Anusree Roy (as Thara, the Beatrice analogue), Alon Nashman (as Benedick), and Kawa Ada (as Tata, the analogue of Don Pedro) all taking major roles in the comedy and doing great justice to their sterling reputations. Their facility with the language is part of why it ended up feeling like Rose went a little far in his adaptation – they are all among the cohort of thespians who actually have command of early modern English and deal it from the decks of their mouths as fluidly as any Vegas hustler might his cards. Ali Momen, playing Darius (the analogue of Claudio) also brings a real charge to his scenes — very much the young buck, fresh off a conquest and full of honest emotion.
Surtitles in Hindi and English made the action multiply comprehensible, and I enjoyed the choice to let some of the characters speak in Hindi and others in English — especially as emotions rose — and let the surtitles do the work of translation. It felt accessible and welcoming.
Nova Bhattacharya’s choreography also did a lot to really ground the piece in its Bollywood aesthetic (even if it became rather clear during the final number how much experience each cast member may have had with Indian wedding dances before being called upon to perform them onstage). It was a pleasure to see the dancing melded so seamlessly into the text, and I was pleased to be be able to recognize a few of the mudras I learned about when reviewing Skin & Quicksand in the fall.
I would be remiss not to spare a few words for Anand Rajaram as Constable Dan Singh (the analogue of Dogberry) and John Cleland as Verges, who were outstanding comic relief. Rajaram’s vocal comedy and Cleland’s antics made an excellent match, about which I will say no more so as not to spoil.
If you are fond of Shakespeare, go and see this, but perhaps more — if you are not fond of Shakespeare (or think you’re not) go and see this. This is Shakespeare’s comedies as they were meant to be: bawdy, bumbling, comic, crass, daring and delightful. I predict you’ll be converted.
- Much Ado About Nothing plays through 31 May at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgeman Ave.
- Shows are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with 2:30 matinees both Saturday and Sunday.
- Tickets range from $22 to $60, with rush tickets available at $15 for some performances.
- Tickets may be purchased by phone at 416.531.1827 or through the online box office.
Photo of the ensemble by Cylla von Tiedemann