Adapting Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Tarragon Theatre

Until May 17, 2015

Desi Shakespeare never had it so good. Under the direction of Richard Rose, the Brampton Much Ado, complete with Bhangra, Bharatanatyam and Bollywood references, Hindi surtitles and a fine cast of South Asian actors, wrings the classic comedy for every conceivable form of humour.

Some may object to the sometimes over-the-top farcical, even slapstick moments. But just try to stifle a laugh at Alon Nashman’s Benedict as a ruthless, self-possessed CFO, grey suit covering a vulnerable heart, in a comic turn that transforms him into passionate suitor for the hand of Beatrice.

Rose and consulting director Ravi Jain’s adaptation of the comedy is straightforward. Messina is Brampton; in place of a war between Italian city states, we have the hedge fund wars. In place of Don Pedro, prince of Arragon, we have Lord Tata, billionaire businessman and his duplicitous, vengeful half-brother Jovanni Tata. Presiding over the entire affair, as in Leonato, governor of Messina, is, Ranjit, Mayor of Brampton. He’s the Shakespearean fixer, the one who drives the plot, decides who marries whom and acts the benevolent godfather to niece Thara (Shakespeare’s Beatrice). Darius aka Claudio, a young lord of Florence, is Benedict’s protégé. Darius is smitten by Ranjit’s daughter Sita (Hero in Shakespeare), but he’s too shy to approach her. His friend Lord Tata offers to do the honours and impersonates Darius at a costume ball, winning Sita for his friend.

The seduction is successful and the wedding is on, but there’s always a wrinkle. Tata’s jealous half-brother Jovani must sow discord and destroy the peace of Brampton. He does it through a ruse to make Sita look unfaithful. In this he is assisted by Dalal, hiding in Ranjit’s garden in the disguise of a stone warrior statue, making for an amusing bit of stage business.

Music and dance are what knit together the cultural elements of the play, advancing the plot and anchoring the desi adaptations, without which it would be hard to tell the players without a scorecard. Nova Bhattacharya choreographs an opening Bharatanatyam dance class, at which we perceive that Thara, while sharp of tongue, is lacking in graces.  Battacharya can act too: as Menaka, the lady’s maid, she joins in the scheme to discredit Sita. The Michael Jackson “Thriller” sequence elevates the comedy to pure satire, but the comic highpoint is definitely Nashman creeping around behind artificial bushes and even on to the laps of audience members as he tries to eavesdrop on Lord Tata and friends setting a trap to make him think Thara is infatuated with him.

Much more style than substance, this Much Ado might have failed were it not for some classically trained actors such as Ellora Patnaik, as Auntie, wiser sister of Ranjit, Anusree Roy as Thara and David Adams as Mayor Ranjit. Ed Hanley’s sound design supports many jovial moments and Michelle Tracey’s costumes cleverly express the Shakespearean themes of class conflict, false love based on the acquisition of wealth and power and true love that restores harmony.

In the end all discord is removed, all money stays in the right hands and families remain intact. You might say that in this Brampton Much Ado, all’s well that ends well.

Above: Ali Momen, Kawa Ada, Alon Nashman and David Adams in the Brampton Much Ado About Nothing

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

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