Much Ado About Something Great!
“Is everyone here yet?” The words echoed throughout the hollow walls of the backstage as the actors waited impatiently in the wings to come out on stage and showcase their talents. Although the rehearsal schedule was extremely taxing on the students, the positive results were visible on the 16th of February, 2018 at the NCPA Experimental Theatre.
Before speaking of the play itself, I must appreciate the stellar efforts made by Ms Anita and her art team in creating an absolutely stunning set which effectively helped the audience visualize the play and keep up with the plot. The efforts made by the student council to sell tickets too came to fruition as the theatre filled rapidly as soon as the doors opened.
The play opened with a short Renaissance-era dance which was immediately recognized by all the students who visited Stratford-upon-Avon. What followed was a vignette which established Benedick’s personality and the rising tensions between Claudio and Don John. The plot was like that of many other Shakespearean comedies. There was an obvious conflict as a result of confusion which resulted in the weddings of the four protagonists: Benedick, Beatrice, Claudio and Hero. The plot of “Much Ado About Nothing” can be summarized as Don Jon’s failed attempt at breaking the bond between two couples and the hilarity that ensues as a result of all the confusion. Most parents noted that the play looked like a professional production and what really made this year’s school play stand out was the integration of text written 400 years ago and current times. The masquerade ball had Trump, Kim Jong-un, Obama etc. The name of this year’s play singularly foreshadows the involvement of modern elements since its name was advertised as “Much Ado About Fake News,” a phrase that only recently gained worldwide recognition. It is also impossible to forget the scramble for a selfie-stick which played an important role as Benedick stepped out of the wedding (and the stage) to take a selfie of the nuptial ceremony (I really do wonder how well that picture turned out).
Benedick, the male lead, was played by Ranjit Cortez who was able to portray his vanity and charm almost effortlessly (There were quite a few discussions backstage about whether Ranjit’s ease in fitting into the role of Benedick was a result of great acting skills or just past experiences). Despite his wit and confidence, Benedick goes through constant changes throughout the play and the excellent costume design really helps in visualising the transformation of Benedick (as a complement to the loss of his beard during the interval as well, of course). As expected, Ranjit performed exceptionally well as the lead character as his portrayal of love as well as his dialogue delivery remained absolutely spot on throughout the night. Despite the very common nervous jitters backstage, Ranjit was able to put on stage a performance that is quite comparable to that of a professional actor.
Beatrice, the female lead, was played by Avanti Sheth. Considering the parallels that I am able to draw between the reel and real-life roles that these students play, I must commend the casting choices for being perfect. Avanti clearly fit into the shoes of the free-spirited, banter loving, men-loathing, witty Beatrice. An unlikely love interest of Benedick, Beatrice is a character who evolves rather abruptly in the text but is given the perfect human touch by Avanti. In all aspects, Avanti really uplifts the character and smoothens out the transition from a scathingly sarcastic woman to an emotionally connected one. Shakespeare’s portrayal of women, to this day, remains slightly ahead of its time, with the importance of women being a major aspect of the play, complemented by Avanti’s distinct portrayal of Beatrice as woman who values her independence over the bond of marriage.
Claudio and Hero, played by Yohann and Vipasha, played a part in the biggest conflict in the play. Yohann’s portrayal of a naïve but sincere man was done extremely well, with Yohann able to double as a concerned lover and an honourable soldier as well. His performance was well-received by the audience due to the versatility of the emotions he was able to express in such a small time-frame. Hero, played by Vipasha Shah, was the very opposite of Beatrice - the quintessential woman in the 17th century. Her prim and proper portrayal of Hero was excellent. Although one might have misconceived her role to be one dimensional, all doubts were cleared when Vipasha began to cry during the wedding scene, and immediately brought everyone to tears. Undeniably, Vipasha’s portrayal not only proved to the audience that Hero’s character had a greater role in the play but also moved the audience (and the backstage).
Every “Hero” needs a villain, and Farhan does just that as he morphs into the role of Don John - the bastard brother of Don Pedro who seemed to be hellbent on breaking up Claudio and Hero’s wedding by tricking Claudio into thinking that Hero had extra-marital affairs despite her apparent “lady-like” behaviour. Farhan portrays arrogance, sarcasm and repulsion in his character with ease as he tries to exact revenge against Claudio who was able to beat him, as seen in the prologue of the play.
It was genuinely difficult to decide on a single highlight of the show but the scene with Benedick hiding in the dustbin was definitely deemed as comic gold as Don Pedro (Tarini essaying the part with camaraderie and a fair sense of justice), Claudio, Leonato (the first happy and then stricken father of Hero, played by Zahir) and Benedick easily won over the audience relatively early on as a result of the obviously great acting but also the design of the scene. Beatrice’s gulling by Daneesh and Avantica came close for realism as the contents of a watering can were blithely poured over her head and she emerged drenched, bedraggled and furious.
Another group which probably does get less recognition than they deserve are Dogberry (Neha, who was simply stellar in her role), Verges (the masterful and amused Milena) and their Watchmen – Aryan Khanna, who had superbly transformed himself into the old man who tottered continuously, remaining in character throughout; Devansh, portraying the down at heel drunk; Avi, venturing a brave comment by his character part and then sinking back into lethargy and Anaya, supportive of the crew’s plans and efforts. On the one hand, Dogberry and Verges were able to assert their comical dominance over the watchmen through their comical delivery of lines and, on the other hand, the watchmen themselves used their sense of humour to generate quite a few laughs despite having minimal lines but maximal passion and body language. The most iconic exchange of words had to have been the one between Conrade (Panthini with blue hair) and Dogberry, where Conrade called Dogberry an “ass” and Neha’s reaction to it just had the audience rolling on the floor.
Tanisha was a masterful Borachio, pure evil, with a smirk and a cutting glance, suitably contrite at the end. The green hair had something to do with it. Antonio, Leonato’s brother was played by Dhruv. The makeup was so superb that one could have met the two old men socially and helped them into a cab! The part of the Friar was superbly executed by Daneesh who also doubled up as Hero’s lady-in-waiting, Ursula. Margaret, another lady in waiting, who sold Hero down the river and was suitably contrite about it at the end, was played by Avantica. Arianna sang at the funeral and on a joyous occasion, lending the play moods that fitted in perfectly with the situations at hand. The lighting of the funeral scene was superb! The Christian context for the wedding was evoked beautifully by the stained glass panels made by the art students. Hero’s boudoir was a wonderful piece of stage management. So much of the movement of the play depended on adroit work by the superb backstage team and Ms Aishwarya.
In conclusion, “Much Ado About Nothing” most definitely deserved the three hours that were spent watching it on a Friday evening and the three months for preparation (as well as my birthday, which I, of course, spent helping out backstage). The actors did a stellar job at grabbing the audience’s attention despite the long run time of the play. The dramatical elements of the play remained unparalleled in my opinion and could have only been outdone by the drama on the third floor. We really look forward to the production that Mr Gardner and Mr Darshan put up next year, but one thing is for sure: BD Somani keeps raising the bar with their school play every single year and will continue to do so in the future.
- Amartya, 11