Tarragon Theatre’s Bollywood adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is an entertaining and culturally relevant re-imagining of the classic comedy that pits the sexes against each other in a merry war.
Director Richard Rose and consulting director Ravi Jain did an excellent job of staying true to the Shakespearean dialogue, while interjecting elements of both Indian and Canadian culture to connect with the audience. Set in Brampton, Ontario with references to Thornhill, the male characters were given business designations of CEO, CFO and VP to update Shakespeare’s original character designations.
Hindu culture was vividly portrayed throughout the play by opening with the female cast members learning a traditional dance and ending with an elaborate and hilarious dance sequence typical of what you would find in a Bollywood film. There was also a comical Halloween dance sequence where the character of Auntie (Ellora Patnaik), dressed as Michael Jackson, lead the cast in a Bollywood version of the choreography to Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller.”
The dance sequences and music contributed greatly to the Hindu culture portrayal, as did the elaborate and beautiful wedding attire worn by the cast. The most interesting tactic used to portray Hindu culture was the use of English subtitles being projected against the facade of the house front. These English subtitles were used on a few occasions to allow English-speaking audience members to understand what Auntie was speaking in Hindi.
This was a great way to remind the audience of the play’s Bollywood inspiration, but I felt it took away from the audience’s ability to fully submerge themselves in the performances of the actors. I always missed the beginning of the subtitles because I was too caught up in the action on stage and often felt torn between choosing to watch Auntie perform or reading the subtitles above her.
The set was simple with the house front facade as the set’s backdrop with sliding doors on both sides and two large doors as the focal point of the stage. The sliding doors were creatively used by the characters to spy on each other and plot their trickery. Both Benedict (Alon Nashman) and Thara (Anusree Roy) hilariously utilized the bare set, while trying to eavesdrop on conversations. Benedict grabbed one of the shrubs and carried it all over the stage until he jumped into the audience and stole a program to hide, while Thara hopped between the front doors and pillars.
The entire cast gave great performances, but the characters of Head Constable Dan Singh (Anand Rajaram) and Constable Verges (John Cleland) stole the show as dim-witted policemen with Newfoundlander accents. Constable Verges refused to leave his Timbits behind while chasing after the villainous henchman Dalal (Gugun Deep Singh) and Constable Dan Singh got the last word during the final dance sequence exclaiming “I’m Dan Singh!” or was it “I’m dancing!”? This clever pun on his name was a great way to end the show. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable production that brought Shakespeare’s word into present day Canada.
Much Ado About Nothing is playing at Tarragon Theatre until May 31. Tickets can be purchased online at tarragontheatre.com
photo by: Cylla von Tiedemann