Writer: Nigel Planer
Director: Jatinder Verma
Designer: Claudia Mayer
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Tara Arts’ production of The Game of Love and Chai, completing a UK tour with a week at West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre, brings a great deal of intelligence, imagination and skill to bear on modernising and re-locating Pierre de Marivaux’s 1730 comedy, The Game of Love and Chance, but it feels like hard work, with little natural momentum.
Nigel Planer’s text sets the plot in a prosperous Indian household in contemporary Britain, with plenty of satire and sly comment on the contrast between westernised and traditional characters – or, most amusingly, on the conflict between the two elements in the same character. However, Jatinder Verma’s production references the original from time to time, from the introductory music that is more Rameau than raga to the change to 18th Century costume during the final dance.
The text preserves the basic pattern of the original, though the situation is very different. A marriage is planned between two rich and successful young people who have never met. The woman decides that she wants the chance to observe her potential husband before deciding so, when he visits, changes roles with a social “inferior”. Meanwhile, the man has made the same decision so courtships, official and unofficial, develop in a world of mistaken identities. In a typical 18th Century ploy, an older relative is in the know and manipulates the progress of the relationships.
In the case of The Game of Love and Chai Rani is a successful solicitor who sees no reason why she should belong to any man and the play begins with her arguing with her pleasure-loving, proudly uneducated beautician cousin Sita about marriage. They resolve to exchange identities and her mother, Kamala-Ji, encourages the deception, fully aware that Raj, the banker she is due to marry, is doing exactly the same thing. Nitin, the unlicensed cabby, arrives pretending to be Raj and Kamala-Ji and her dopily self-regarding son, Sunny, sit back to enjoy the fun.
The whole thing is stylishly done, with the use of asides perfectly in keeping with the original and reminding us of the deception by switches of accent. Costumes (by Claudia Mayer) can be attractive or comical, but are also used to send messages about character: Western clothes are contrasted with Bollywood finery, but the Western clothes themselves, smart and sensible or grotesquely inappropriate, tell us much. The brief Bollywood-style dance episodes are charmingly done.
For all this, the performance never quite takes off. More than once a character accuses the others of showing off – and that is part of the problem. Rather than character development or genuine farcical momentum, too often we just have characters being silly. A good cast does this very well, but is it enough?
In the circumstances, Sharon Singh’s performance as Rani stands out as being rooted in reality and genuine emotion, though not without a sense of mischief. The other memorable performance comes from Goldy Notay as the worldly Kamala-Ji, delightfully ambiguous in her attitudes to tradition and Western society. Adam Samuel-Bal is personable and energetic as Raj, but the role is less clearly defined than Rani. Kiren Jogi (Sita) and Ronny Jhutti (Nitin) play the comic possibilities for all they are worth and Deven Modha is expressively camp as Sunny.
Runs until 5 May 2018 | Image: Contributed