The Door, the REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 20th February, 2018
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s brand-new play is a gripping domestic drama, concerning a British-Asian family and a dark secret. Daughter Amy (Raagni Sharma) is looking forward to a going-away party to give her a good send off for a new job in New York. Arriving in the family home for the party is Amy’s estranged Auntie, Vira (Sukh Ojla). Blunt, outspoken and unconventional, Vira sets the cat among the proverbials and what has been buried or glossed over for years comes rushing to the surface. It seems that dad Barry (Ezra Faroque Khan) is not the hard-working, reliable pilau of the community everyone believes him to be. Vira knows different. Her sister, Deesh (Yasmin Wilde) won’t face the truth and risk losing her standing in the community along with the cushy life she has been able to give Amy and Amy’s oddball brother Bill (Farshad Rokey).
The volatile family dynamics are at first humorous, as they chuck barbed remarks around like confetti, but as their attention turns to darker topics, the barbs wound, and old scars are torn open, in the kind of way families tear chunks out of the ones they love. It’s compelling stuff. Bhatti’s script is richly written, with plenty of funny one-liners (“It doesn’t matter if he’s gay – there’s one on EastEnders”) with Wilde delivering the bitterest throwaway gags with perfect comic timing. Each member of the family gets at least one outburst: Rokey’s Bill comes to startling life when he loses his cool; Sharma’s Amy shows she is more than the self-absorbed teenager she at first appears; and Khan’s Barry, who has gone through the motions of atonement, fleshes out the character so we at least see where he is coming from – even though nothing he can say can justify his actions. As Vira, Ojla is also the title character – ‘Elephant’ is her nickname. She also embodies That Which Must Not Be Spoken Of, but she is determined that everyone acknowledges and deals with the elephant she brings to the room. This elephant cannot and will not forget. It is a brash but dignified portrayal of anguish and long-suffering.
Director Lucy Morrison has the action play out on a bare stage with very little in the way of props. This means it falls to the actors to create a credible atmosphere of family life. Above their heads hangs a stylised roof, symbolising the home and also what has been hanging over them all these years.
Entertaining, compelling and powerful, this is an Elephant I’ll never forget.