Writer: Sukh Ojla
Director: Pravesh Kumar
Reviewer: James Garrington
Polly has a good life, all things considered. She has a good husband, a good job, children. It’s not the life she used to dream of, but who gets to do that? Then out of the blue, she is contacted by an old flame, Bali. He is a successful businessman now living in Spain, and he’s returned to the UK for a brief visit. When they meet will a flame be rekindled or will sparks fly?
Pyar Actually is Sukh Ojla’s first play, and it is an exploration of life as a British Asian today, touching on a number of issues. She has a real eye for humour and has included a number of nice touches which add extra layers of comedy in the early stages. She has also created characters that are believable as they move through the emotional journey in the piece, though the journey does feel a little hurried at times – necessary to fit the play into the 75 minute running time.
Ojla plays Polly with a twinkle in her eye and a real flair for comic timing, without losing the ability to demonstrate the range of emotions necessary as she travels through the piece. She has a very expressive face which she uses to full advantage, both in the comic moments and the more poignant ones where a tear replaces the twinkle in her eye. Ojla also plays Amarjit, Bali’s aunt who cleans for him and in doing so brings out a different character entirely, as an older woman who lapses more frequently into Punjabi to make a point. Opposite Ojla is Simon Rivers as Bali. Rivers is a sort of straight man to Ojla’s comedy, with his own emotional journey to follow. Although his comedy skills are not needed as much as Ojla’s, it is clear that he can turn his hand in that direction too, with a flair for – sometimes comic – accents. Bali is clearly a significant character in the play – there are after all only two actors on stage – but his role feels a little underwritten by comparison with those played by Ojla.
Rebecca Brower’s set is cleverly designed to represent a number of locations, being slowly peeled away in time with the lives of the characters being played out in front of it. Jack Weir’s lighting is also well-conceived and enhances the idea of multiple locations throughout.
This play speaks clearly to the Asian communities from the reaction of the audience on Press Night, but it covers issues that anyone can relate to and does so in a comic and poignant way. The use of Punjabi alongside the English is interesting – speaking Punjabi is something that the characters portrayed would do, and which would seem natural particularly for the older generations. It can leave the non-Punjabi speakers feeling excluded from time to time when comments are made that are clearly very funny, but completely pass a section of the audience by which is a shame and left this reviewer at least wishing he was able to speak some of the language.
Don’t let that put you off though – Pyar Actually is a very good debut play, with a lot of comedy providing a counterpoint to the emotions experienced by two people who are trying to work out how they should relate to one another after many years apart, and after lives have moved on.
Runs Until 12 May 2018 | Image: George Torode