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.
Adam Samuel-Bal and Sharon Singh wrestling (with their emotions)
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Samuel-Bal, Adam Wilshire, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Claudia Meyer, Deven Modha, Goldy Notay, Jatinder Verma, Kiren Jogi, Marivaux, Nigel Planer, review, Ronny Jhutti, Sharon Singh, Tara Arts, The Game of Love and Chai, The Game of Love and Chance | posted in Theatre Review
The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 7th January, 2017
Marivaux’s 1736 comedy deals with the mercenary nature of marriage and the folly of placing money above human emotion (in this case, love). The Marquis (Andrew Buzzeo) stands to inherit 600,000 francs if he marries Hortense (Tessa Bonham Jones) but forfeit a third of this fortune to her if he doesn’t. Neither he nor Hortense is motivated to marry the other, apart from the prospect of financial gain – they each have their hearts set on other people: he, the Countess (Cicely Whitehead) and she, the Chevalier (Liam Fernandez). Add to the mix a couple of scheming servants in the form of Lepine (Dominic Weatherill) and Lisette (Scarlett Saunders) and the scene is set for a lot of comings and goings, plots and counterplots, and ridiculously volatile and transient affections. The characters speak their minds in asides that the other characters can hear, making for some funny exchanges and additional complications. They are all pretty much stock figures – most of them don’t have names, only indicators of social standing – but they are exquisitely played by this tight ensemble, it is a pleasure to see them work themselves up and then extricate themselves from their own machinations.
Tessa Bonham Jones is deliciously Machiavellian as the scheming Hortense – it falls to her to provide a good deal of exposition at the start, as Marivaux sets out his stall. Liam Fernandez’s Chevalier is handsome and passionate; Andrew Buzzeo’s Marquis hilariously and charmingly blusters, like a kind of articulate Hugh Grant, struggling to express his feelings to Cicely Whitehead’s coolly elegant Countess. Dominic Weatherill is suitably cocky as Lepine but it is Scarlett Saunders’s worldly and wily Lisette the maid who threatens to steal every scene she is in.
The timing is impeccable. Dewi Johnson’s direction is pacy, augmenting the witty translation with comic business, and keeping things moving. The mannered performance style fits the heightened language and the audience acknowledgments keep us in collusion with the plotters. Denisa Dumitrescu’s costumes are gorgeous (the play has become a period piece rather than the contemporary social satire it was originally) and Charlotte Orsler’s set is largely a huge document – the will of the title – which towers over the action, forming the backdrop and also the floor; the characters traipse over the stipulations that motivate them, until they come to their senses and realise love is more important than money.
Hugely enjoyable, this production tickles and amuses; we love to see self-centredness at work so overtly, safe in the knowledge that higher motivations will prevail.
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew Buzzeo, Charlotte Orsler, Cicely Whitehead, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Denisa Dumitrescu, Dewi Johnson, Dominic Weatherill, Liam Fernandez, Marivaux, review, Scarlett Saunders, Tessa Bonham Jones, The Will | posted in Theatre Review