The Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest contribution to the World Shakespeare Festival 2012 is Much Ado About Nothing; currently playing at the Courtyard theatre. Set in twenty-first century Delhi, Meera Syal and Paul Bhattacharjee play Beatrice and Benedick as sparring middle-aged lovers, surrounded by a British-Asian ensemble. This is not the first time that the RSC has staged the play in India. In 1976, John Barton set his well-received production in a garrison town in a late nineteenth century India ruled by the British Raj. Writing in The Guardian on 29th May 1976, Michael Billington praised the setting, calling it “an ideal background for the play about the prankish practical jokes of a bored officer class and about the liberation of long-suppressed emotion.”
Orlando Furioso, an epic Italian romance by Ludovico Ariosto, is the origin of the Claudio and Hero story but the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is Shakespeare’s invention. These two characters dominate the action and take over the audience’s interest. In 1976, Judi Dench and Donald Sinden played the confirmed spinster and confirmed bachelor to great acclaim. In The Spectator on 17th May 1976 Kenneth Hurran wrote “The engaging accommodation reached by Beatrice and Benedick.... is something else again. The sardonic cut and thrust in the felicitous exchanges of these two is handled by Judi Dench and Donald Sinden with an undertow of reluctant affection that gives their ultimate intelligence a rare plausibility.” And this charming image, taken by Joe Cocks, catches this mood perfectly.