The Game of Love and Chai – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer: Nigel Planer

Director: Jatinder Verma

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

The overall concept of an 18th-century French farce dragged into a modern-day Bollywood world has mountains of potential to go extremely wrong. The French had somewhat perfected the art of precise yet witty wordplay, with Marivaux winning the proverbial race, and therefore trying to clean up, or adapt, something that wasn’t broken in the first place can often have disastrous consequences. This couldn’t be much further from the truth this evening, however, as Tara Arts bring The Game of Love and Chai – Nigel Planer’s take on Mariveux’s The Game of Love and Chance – to Belgrade Theatre’s B2.

Meet Rani and Sita. Neither young woman is your stereotypical Indian girl; having very different ideas about life, love and nuptials, the pair agree to switch places in order for Rani to vet her potential arranged husband from a distance, with him thinking she is the poorer cousin of the family. Little do the women know that said arranged husband, Raj, has concocted the same cunning plan and is due to show up at the family home posing as his driver, Nitin, with Nitin pretending to be him. To add to the confusion, Kamala-Ji, Rani’s mother, and Sunny, Rani’s brother, are in on both plans but don’t tell either party this – if you’ve managed to keep up then you’ll realise the ensuing chaos is inevitable.

The cast as a whole follow the themes of a classic farce well: nicely executed stage-whispers, freeze frames, speedy wordplay and punches a-plenty. The sillier roles – namely Sita, Sunny and Nitin – seem to offer more by way of character development that the more sensible Rani and Raj and therefore lack some of the comic hilarity that ensures they capture our attention. Ronny Jhutti has the easier job as Nitin and really throws everything at being as flamboyant as possible without let-up. Comedically cringeworthy, heads shake and eyes roll as we laugh both at and with him while he fools those around him. Sunny is more stylishly ostentatious and cricket-bat welding, Deven Modha’s cool-cum-camp, comically stereotyped portrayal is utterly faultless and he often steals our attention even when he isn’t centre-stage. Kiren Jogi ensures Sita is well suited to Nitin’s, somewhat forward, advances, with her over-sexed and in-your-face persona a little slow burning but triumphant in the end, and Goldy Notay, despite also being slow to embed herself into character, eventually charms as the weird and wonderful Kamala Ji.

Despite beginning as the main focus of the plot, Rani and Raj’s characters slip into the background by default as the story unfolds and unfortunately, Sharon Singh and Adam Samuel-Bal seem to let some of their enthusiasm follow suit. Neither are bad, both have fantastic moments and they have a good rapport for the most part; but next to their fellow cast members, they are the hardest to really connect with and we just can’t find it in ourselves to love them. Thankfully this is a small blip and doesn’t hinder too much on our enjoyment of the play as a whole.

A clever blur of genres with humorous nods to its origins, The Game of Love and Chai is a brilliantly bonkers, outrageously over the top, highly entertaining production. Hide some gin in a tea-flask, pull up a chair and prepare to be welcomed by the family. Chai Ho!

Runs Until 28 April 2018  | Image: Contributed

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