Tag Archives: Ronny Jhutti

Just My Cup of Chai

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.

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Adam Samuel-Bal and Sharon Singh wrestling (with their emotions)

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Doubling up

CIPHERS

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th November, 2013

Dawn King’s play is a taut little thriller, and like the playwright’s name suggests, the plot dawns on us as the action unfolds.  We move back and forth in time, witnessing events out of sequence – like the spies on stage, we look for patterns and meaning in what we see and hear.

It is the story of two sisters.  One joins the secret service and winds up dead.  The other strives to uncover the truth about her sister’s death.  The spy sister has an affair with a married man, an artist, and this poses a security threat, and this brings about her downfall…

The cast of four double up on roles.  As well as being economical, this is a device that mirrors the double lives the characters lead.  Grianne Keenan is strong as the sisters, cold and dispassionate as one, driven and emotional as the other.  Shereen Martin portrays two more strong women – there is a theme here: women being strong and more than efficient in what is traditionally perceived as a man’s world, international espionage.  Ronny Jhutti is a terror suspect turned informer along with the philandering artist.  In contrast to the women, the men are more unstable, volatile even.  Finally, there is Bruce Alexander as Russian boss and the girls’ father, giving a very touching scene as a bereaved parent trying to make sense of his loss.

James Perkins’s set is all screens that slide across stage to effect the transitions.  They are for projecting handy translations of some of the dialogue for those of us whose Russian doesn’t go much further than ‘vodka’.  The set is all clean lines and angles.  It could be the artist’s exhibition, if the artist is ripping off Malevich’s white, black and red squares.  Gary Bowman’s lighting design adds a touch of colour and mood.  There is no moment when what’s on stage is not elegant and stylish.

Director Blanche McIntyre keeps things sharp.  The script treats the audience with intelligence (pun intended) and what we get is an absorbing and intriguing mystery.  We may feel detached from the characters somewhat – the set aids and abets us in this distancing – but the unravelling of the plot and the cold intensity of the performances are enough to keep us hooked.

The play shows us that you don’t have to be a spy to live a double life – anyone who has had an affair knows this.  But in a more general sense, it is a stark reminder that we can very rarely (if at all) know who someone else really is.  Everyone leads a double life.

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