THE GAME OF LOVE AND CHAI
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 24th April, 2018
Marivaux’s 18th Century French farce, The Game of Love and Chance, gets an update from Tara Arts and Nigel Planer of The Young Ones, no less. It’s a remarkably good fit, translating the action from the French bourgeoisie to a present-day Indian family in Britain, where notions of class and caste dictate social mores and aspirations. Widowed Kamala-Ji is keen to marry off daughter Rani, who is a successful, independent young woman who works as a solicitor. Rani wishes to retain her independence until she can marry for love, if there is such a match to be made. She faces pressure from trashy cousin Sita, who contrasts with Rani in every way possible. A prospective groom is on his way to size up his potential wife… Rani and Sita concoct a plan to switch identities and do some sizing up of the groom for themselves. Unbeknownst to them, the groom has hatched an identical plan and has switched with his unlicensed Uber driver…
The script is peppered with bang up-to-date references along with Punjabi (I think it is) words and phrases but the performance style is all traditional. There is a declamatory aspect to the delivery, direct audience address, and much heightened posing and posturing. The characters are drawn with broad strokes and the action is almost cartoonish at times. It is, all of it, hilarious.
Director Jatinder Verma has an eye for comic detail and doesn’t miss a trick, keeping things snappy so this fabulous confection has no opportunity to stale. The action is broken up with Bollywood song-and-dance numbers, all performed with gusto and fun – where the French originals would have featured courtly masques or brief balletic interludes. Claudia Mayer’s set gives us a garden of privet archways for the comings and goings, with a backdrop of suburban semis peering over the top. Her costumes strongly signal the characters (and their disguises) and there is a glorious nod to Marivaux in the finale, courtesy of designer Adam Wilshire.
Goldy Notay is absolutely delicious as matriarch Kamala-Ji, with Deven Modha great fun as Rani’s camp brother Sunny. Ronny Jhutti throws himself into the role of Nitin – the driver masquerading as the groom – with relish, while both Kiren Jogi’s Sita and Sharon Singh’s Rani clearly differentiate when they are pretending to be each other. Singh is especially good, bringing more than a hint of snobbishness a la Penelope Keith to her portrayal of the snitty Rani. Adam Samuel-Rai makes an energetic, passionate, even neurotic suitor, as the handsome Raj. The entire ensemble rises to the demands of this kind of material, popping off quickfire asides and larger-than-life reactions with skill.
This fast and funny production reminds us that the old theatrical forms and conventions still have currency and that people have much in common whatever their cultural background. A fabulous treat of a show; I loved every second.