The Game of Love and Chai, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, to April 28.
This charming piece is an excellent transposition of Marivaux’s 1730 comedy, The Game of Love and Chance (see what they did there?).
Instead of the Parisian household of the original, here the set alludes to English surburbia with box hedges and mock Tudor rooflines in the distance. This is the world of middle class Indians parodied so effectively in Goodness Gracious Me.
Author Nigel Planer (yes him) either had very good advisors or has a first-class insight into this world. The characters are straight from the Bollywood central casting.
When we first meet Sita, the lower class cousin, played with comedic relish by Kiren Jogi, she is all boob tube, camo pants and wobbly head, innit. By contrast, elegant lawyer Rani, Sharon Singh, the object of the proposed marriage that drives the plot, is sophisticated, tasteful and well spoken.
Their opening two-hander sets the tone. Knowing looks and asides to “half the Indian diaspora” are met with whoops of recognition from the many young Asian women in the audience. Throughout the play there are many in-joke references to Indian film, music and dance videos and bursts of Gujarati and/or Hindi. They delight the target audience but do not limit the wider enjoyment of this well-crafted farce.
Modern mother Kamala-Ji, a standout performance by Goldy Notay, floats around in a kaftan, drink in hand, and teases her daughter and niece with references to Whatsapp and Run DMC to establish her liberal credentials. Bordering on camp stereotype, her son, Sunny, bounds onstage in casual sports gear and headband, waving his cricket bat like a rapier. Actor Deven Modha manages to keep the parody on the right side with perfect timing and delivery.
Between these principals the plot is established with clarity despite the expected convolutions of character-swapping and deception. This only leaves the male love interests of rich sophisto Raj, played by lithe and rubbery Adam Samuel-Bal and his Del Boy Uber driver Nitin, an over-the-top (in a good way) Ronny Jhutti.
With all the elements for confusion in place, when the respective couples first meet there is literally a light bulb moment. Quite deliberately the men don’t come across too well. This is another timely examination of the status and role of women, of class and gender power games (see Mrs Rich at the RSC, reviewed elsewhere on this website) and of “love above possessions”.
Planer manages to keep faith with the spirit of his source material through clever wordplay; the set piece dances and dubbed vocals add to the Bolly-madness of it all, and a nifty switch back to the 18th century for the final scene completes the circle.
The opening night played to a crowded and appreciative house, and one would do well to catch this leg of the national tour for a night of time-warping, cross-cultural delight.
For tickets go to: http://www.belgrade.co.uk/