Tag Archives: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti

Bolly Good Show

DISHOOM!

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 16th October, 2018

 

Priding themselves on giving voices to British Asian theatre-makers, Rifco Theatre Company brings this new piece from playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (writer of the excellent Elephant) to Coventry.

Set in 1978, this is the story of Simon, a wheelchair-bound Indian boy, growing up in England.  His mother having died, Simon is brought up by his father and grandmother – the latter expressing her shame at having such a child in the family.  When Baljit comes to stay, ostensibly to ‘help out’, Simon finds an ally in his bid for independence.

It’s a very funny family drama, along the lines of Anita & Me and East is East, dealing with the clashing of cultures: traditional Indian values vs trying to fit in to a British way of life – but also, the rise of the National Front, a stain which spreads and spreads until the characters, chiefly Simon, have to confront it.  With the bookish Baljit at his side, Simon is bolstered by the fantasy world of Bollywood films – the play’s title is an onomatopoeic word for the sound of a bullet being fired.

In his professional debut, Bilal Khan impresses as the beleaguered Simon, while the excellent Gurkiran Kaur’s Baljit is both a figure of fun and a voice of reason.  Omar Ibrahim gives Simon’s Dad sensitivity – Ibrahim later appears as a quack swami figure, claiming to be able to get Simon on his feet and walking for the price of an iron and a toaster, in one of the play’s funniest scenes.  Georgia Burnell is strong as Donna, object of Simon’s affections; Elijah Baker demonstrates his skills at disco-dancing as mixed-race Mark, caught between communities; while James Mace’s rage-filled Keith is the ugly voice of racism, wrongly attributing the loss of a job opportunity to the arrival of That Lot.  The play acknowledges how white people can get caught up in this skewed way of looking at the world – Wouldn’t it be great to be able to state that such thinking has been thoroughly confined to the past?  Of course, the play is commenting on today as much as 1978.

Just like Simon’s household, the play is dominated by the matriarchal Bibi, in a commanding, hilarious performance from Seema Bowri, veering from the tyrannical to the desperate, but all done with love and the desire for the best for the family.

Neil Irish’s ingenious set gives us swift transitions between locations, along with Rory Beaton’s lighting, that accentuates the Bollywood fantasy moments.  Arun Ghosh’s original music heightens mood and flavour – together with extracts from Bollywood films, providing moments of nostalgia for many of the audience members tonight.  Andy Kumar’s choreography is joyous.  Director Pravesh Kumar balances the humour and drama of the domestic scenes, with the stylised action of the fantastical moments, and successfully evokes the menace of the largely off-stage racist rabble.

It all adds up to an enjoyable show with all-too strong parallels to today’s society.  What comes across most strongly is the shared humanity of the characters, in positive and negative lights.  This is thought-provoking entertainment of a very high quality.

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Gurkiran Kaur and Bilal Khan clash with more than the wallpaper (Photo: Richard Lakos)

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See The Elephant

ELEPHANT

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.

Yasmin Wilde as Deesh_credit Ellie Kurttz

Yasmin Wilde as Deesh (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)


Relative Values

KHANDAN – family

The REP Studio, Birmingham, Tuesday 27th May, 2014

 

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play is set in the home of an Indian family in Birmingham.  At the heart and head of the family, formidable matriarch Jeeto (Sudha Bhuchar) clings to a dream of going ‘home’ to a vista of green fields, viewed from the ancestral verandah.  To this end she pushes son Pal (Rez Kempton) to keep the family shop established by her late husband open on Christmas Day, but Pal has other ideas.  He wants to sell the shop and set up his own business, a care home for elderly Asians in a refurbished pub.  Pal’s wife Liz (Lauren Crace) has been assimilated into the family and is more than happy to adopt the traditional role of the daughter-in-law as live-in domestic help, while Pal’s spirited sister Cookie (Zita Sattar) regrets having married and raised children, as she was expected to.  When cousin Reema arrives from India with her own views of independence and fending for herself, the family tensions that have been simmering like the ever-present pan of ‘chai’ boil over.

It’s an involving play, keeping on the right side of soap opera and melodrama, acted and presented naturalistically.  Director Roxana Silbert handles the events that put strain on family ties by keeping things simple and straightforward, allowing the characters to spark off each other.  The script is very much a conventional one and does not need gimmicks or flashy transitions to dress it up.

Jamie Varton’s set has the audience as three of the walls of the house, giving an intimate setting complete with running tap water and a working gas hob, grounding the play in the realness of its subject matter.

The cast is excellent with Bhuchar and Sattar standing out as mother and daughter with contrasting temperaments.  Kempton and Crace also do well in their scenes of marital strife with the latter especially touching as the white girl who left her own family behind for love.  Neil D’Souza is good fun as Cookie’s hapless husband, Major, ostensibly a bit of a prat until Pal’s plans go awry, and Preeya Kaludas impresses with her portrayal of Reema’s decline from idealism to destitution.

The spectre (or should that be ‘spirit’?) of alcohol looms large in the family’s past and present, and the notion of Pal trying to establish an Asian care home in an old English pub symbolises the difficulties of trying to graft two cultures together to make something new…

There are some very funny lines, many of which come from salon owner Cookie who is not opening on New Year’s Day because ‘ you can’t do a Brazilian with a hangover.’  There is also a lot of heart and no shortage of tension in this story of family dynamics and the clash between ambition and tradition.  You may not understand the odd word or line of Punjabi with which the dialogue is peppered, but you don’t need to.  The universal truths of human relationships speak loud and clear.

Dramatically, Khandan is old-fashioned and sturdy but above all it’s an engaging and satisfying evening’s entertainment.

 

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Mother knows best! Sudha Bhuchar and Rez Kempton (photo: Robert Day)