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Beaumarchais started out as a watchmaker and you can perhaps see the influence of that early training in the precise workings of this comic play. Every time a situation seems resolved, another little click in the mechanism means that a new problem arrives. And every plot twist conspires to reveal the hypocrisy of the nobility and the ingenuity of the servants – particularly Suzanne, the maid at the heart of the story, who must use her wits to escape the lascivious Count who wants to assert his droit de seigneur before allowing her to marry her Figaro.
To help us forget the Mozart opera and see the play and its shrewd social critique afresh, Tara Arts has shifted the action from 18th-century France to 18th-century India. Here the Count becomes the Nawab; Suzanne becomes Rukhsana. The idea is that a similar sense of social upheaval prevailed in India. And while French drama had the tradition of commedia dell’arte, Indian drama had its own popular comic style in Bhavai.
Jatinder Verma’s production then plays out on a bright, empty stage, with no props, only a backdrop of several doors, behind which characters can be concealed. The action is accompanied by an onstage musician. The cast, clad in traditional cream costumes, give jaunty, slightly stylised performances, incorporating traditional movements, poses and tripping dance-steps. It is a sprightly, attractive production that employs a new, witty, and deliberately cheeky translation by Ranjit Bolt.
This is interesting, but what disappoints about the production is that it isn’t particularly funny. I think this is partly because, in spite of all the hustle and bustle, we don’t feel the urgency of the situation or the gravity of the possible outcome if Rukhsana and Figaro don’t succeed in outwitting the Nawab. We know they will succeed, and the joy lies in seeing them do it, but the social critique depends on a shadow of seriousness behind the comedy. And there is so much going on on the surface of the production that the plot twists often don’t come across.
Dina Mousawi and Chris Nayak give attractive performances as Rukhsana and Figaro, but overall the impression is of a cast working very hard but not quite getting the comic result they want. ★★★☆☆
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