Writer: E.M. Forster
Adaptor: Simon Dormandy
Directors: Sebastian Armesto & Simon Dormandy
Reviewer: Daryl Holden
A Passage To India tries to accomplish a lot in its run time. Set in India under British occupation before the First World War, it covers topics such as racism, acceptance, love, loss, false accusations, death, togetherness and prejudice to name but a few. Therefore, it doesn’t come as any real surprise when it predictably fails to cover any of these in any detail.
The tries of the cast make you want to invest in this world and issues are nothing more than whispers in the wind, which is ironic in a sense considering that all they actually seem to do is shout at the top of their voices to fill the theatre, losing any real emotion they wish to portray. There are a few committed and well-realised performances, which bring a touch of relief and make you want to pay attention, but this doesn’t last long. In fact, what ruins such performances most of the time is when the ensemble join in. It simply doesn’t work. The ensemble feel like they’ve been thrown in last minute and given a vague set of instructions to carry out, and with some of them dropping their props several times throughout the performance, it only adds some credibility to this hypothesis.
In the accompanying programme, Simon Dormandy, the man responsible for adapting this piece from the original novel by E.M. Forster, writes that they opted for a minimalist design style, using appropriate costumes on a simple set, but dispensing with accessories, props and scene dressing in order to focus on characters and relationships.
While in theory, this seems to be justifiable reasoning, it only really works in practice when the vast majority of the characters actually go through meaningful character arcs, change their outlooks on the situations unfolding, and aren’t caricatures that we’d never really even consider to be remotely representative of a real-life person. This reasoning must also be called in to question when something as simple as a sheet of paper, or a family photograph isn’t even permitted to be a part of a scene. We’re invited to use our imagination to fill in the empty spaces throughout this performance which is perfectly acceptable in the modern day theatre. However, grant us some kind of reprieve for something so simplistic that to not see it on stage screams laziness or appears that an actor has forgotten a prop rather than evoking any sense of genuine intrigue.
A fair amount of the criticism has also to be laid on the shoulders of the directors. Many of the big moments really work, which is fantastic and a joy to watch. When the ensemble work in unison to create an elephant or the lighting of matches on a blacked out stage it undeniably stands out and creates a striking image. However, it’s the more subtle moments that could use more refinement. Every time a character is about to make a comment that we would now find derogatory or even racist, they look out to the audience in an almost pantomimic way, taking away from the gravity of any situation. It’s also very easy to tell when a character is about to enter the stage, because those already present will randomly move, for no other reason than to simply allow someone new to fill their space. None of it is subtle, and in turn, none of it really works. You get what message the piece is trying to send right from the get-go, then incase you missed it, they repeat it as often as possible throughout and even end on the same note, so where are the dots for us to fill in ourselves?
Overall, A Passage to India is quite a long and frankly boring journey, and at the end, you’ll probably wish you had just read the novel it was adapted from instead.
Runs until 10 February 2018| Image: Idil Sukan