Marriage of Figaro

Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais in a new version by Ranjit Bolt
Tara Arts
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring

Production photo

First performed in Paris in 1784, and since overshadowed by Mozart’s famous opera, Bolt has set his version in India pointing out the similarities between the two seemingly diverse cultures at the same period in time. France was leading up to the Revolution and the end of the monarchy while the Mughal Empire was losing power, finally being dissolved by the British Empire in 1857.

In a very cheeky adaptation the play points out, in a most bizarre manner, the social injustices between the classes, making fun of the pretensions and pomposity of those who consider themselves superior. Political content of the original play has been disregarded in this more secular interpretation.

The set could not be simpler - a corridor with numerous doors through which one can see colour and mirrors, presumably indicating not only the opulence of the palace beyond but also giving an impression of a confusion of hiding places where people could watch, hear and interfere in affairs. From time to time throughout the play a masked figure enters, and these had me intrigued and bemused for some time trying to work out their significance, and also what the masks depicted. Then it became clear – an eye to see, an ear to hear, and a nose to interfere. It also means that the five actors can double up on their roles.

The story is of servant girl Rukhsana (an attractively pert yet down-to-earth Dina Mousawl) about to be married to the butler Figaro, and the Nawab (the Count in the French version) intends to instigate his ‘droit de seigneur’ and seduce the intended bride before her wedding. Figaro intends to thwart these plans, and a plot evolves where an evening meeting in the garden concludes with the Nawab making love to his own wife the Begum – a enjoyably humorous performance by Sharona Sassoon. The story of a wily servant foiling the plans of his master has its roots in the writings of the Roman Plautus, who in turn was inspired by the Greeks, leading to farce as we know it today, and the set with its numerous doors and hiding places lends itself to the entrances and exits essential to a farcical situation, and also should be a simple one to tour.

Bolt focuses on pace and rhythm and this is a very nimble energetic production as the performers prance and cavort their way through the plot, to the intricate and mesmerising beating of drums which emphasise every action, courtesy of musician V. Chandran seated stage right throughout.

As designer Claudia Mayer comments in the programme notes, the style of the piece is based “on Bhaval, a style of folk theatre where the actors are very physical, full of energy and broad humour”. There’s plenty of energy here with their white, full-skirted costumes (a merger of Indian and French styles) give plenty of scope for movement, the only colour being the use of exotic scarves and pashminas which the women use to hide their whispered secrets and flirtations.

Chamml Aulakh is the Nawab, as pompous and blustering as you could wish for the character, and Chris Nayak gives Figaro a likeable humanity and humour with many asides directly addressing the audience.

Jatinder Verma has directed a cross cultural and humorous production, which nevertheless left much of the audience fascinated but slightly mystified by the unusual style.

Touring to Darlington, Cardigan and Swansea.

John Thaxter reviewed this production at the New Players Theatre

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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