For Much Ado... Stratford plans big, fat Punjabi wedding in India

THE Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-upon-Avon is planning a big, fat Punjabi wedding, complete with band, baaja, baaraat, for its new production an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing which is set in India.

Being produced for the World Shakespeare Festival which is part of the Cultural Olympiad, the play will open in Stratford in July before moving to West End in London. For now, there are no plans to stage it in India.

On why he chose to set the play in India with the protagonists from wealthy Delhi families, UK-based director Iqbal Khan says: "Here, an ancient world with its rituals collides with cutting-edge technological and financial advances... Much Ado deals with family honour, interrogation of marriage, subordinate role of women, masculinity, comically shambolic servants and amateur police force. In India, social heirarchies are still clearly present. On a recent visit to Delhi, I encountered a place very much like what I imagined Elizabethan England to have been."

But Khan admits that he had some initial reservations. "The play's timing as part of the World Shakespeare Festival suggested an international lens for the production. I initially resisted the idea of setting in it India. I was wary of the 'exotic' frame. But the more I considered this, the more excited I got about setting the play in present-day India. The vibrancy and colour of the characters and their world, their passionate contradictions and the range of their language and voices make for an intriguing fit with modern India, particularly, modern Delhi," he says.

The cast includes Meera Syal who plays Beatrice, Paul Bhattacharjee as Benedick. Amara Karan as Hero and Sagar Arya as Claudio.

Tom Piper, the Olivier Award-winning associate designer at RSC, says the play will unfold on a thrust stage, with the audience seated on three sides and two levels of balconies. "I am creating the feel of a haveli of a rich family in which the space is dominated by a large tree, the branches of which are entwined with cable and lights that spill out over the whole building, mimicking the wiring of Delhi," he says. "This is my first show in which I have tried to evoke India and it is quite daunting as there will be so many in the audience who will be able to judge whether I have got it right."

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