There or Here – Park Theatre, London

Writer: Jennifer Maisel

Director: Vik Sivalingham

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Maybe Donald Trump’s America frowns upon outsourcing of work to developing countries, but, back in 2006, the practice was widespread. Expanding on this theme, Los Angeles based writer Jennifer Maisel’s play comes up with the idea that it could have been easier and cheaper for would-be parents to find surrogate mothers in India rather than in the USA.

Robyn (Lucy Fenton) works as an illustrator of children’s books; she is an insomniac chatterbox who has cancer. Her partner Ajay (Chris Nayak) is a business consultant who was born in India but is now an all-American fast food junkie. They are childless and want to take steps to establish a future family before Robyn’s treatment begins. Together they embark on an economy class flight to India, Robyn clutching a flask containing her frozen eggs for the entire journey.

On arrival, the couple meet a doctor (Ursula Mohan) who acts as a conduit between them and an Indian couple, cocky taxi driver Rajit (Manish Gandhi) and his wife (Rakhee Thakrar) whose womb he is renting out to finance a new cab. Back home, Robyn’s worrying mother (Mohan) seeks initiation into the world of global communications and after being coaxed into buying an expensive laptop, she takes the young salesman (Gandhi) as her toy boy.

Diverging from the main storyline, Maisel picks up on the fact that modern technology can bring people together and, at the same time, make them more remote. Both Robyn and Ajay, seemingly unable to get satisfaction for their emotional needs in each other, find the listening ears of strangers (all Thakrar) at the other end of telephone lines. Robyn talks incessantly to a technical support agent in India, who pretends to be in Oklahoma, having picked up her accent from the musical. Ajay unburdens himself on a hidden lady taking orders at a drive-thru restaurant and then on a novice sex worker via a premium rate chat line.

The first half of the play jumps backwards and forwards between years in the mid-noughties, thereby unsettling the narrative flow, and then, when Maisel eventually gets it onto a continuous track, she takes the plotting further than she needs to, as if struggling to find a satisfactory way to tie up the many loose ends. On occasions, the writer emulates Robyn by rambling on for too long, but she shows a keen sense of the ironies of modern living, which keeps this production afloat, buoyed by nimble direction from Vik Sivalingham and engaging performances.

So, what is this meant to be all about? Surrogacy? Parenthood? Multiculturalism? Ethnic identity? Globalisation? Technological advances? In fact, it is about all of these things, but not enough about any single one of them. Packing in too many potentially intriguing ideas, it is not surprising that the play buckles under the weight and gets confused. Its chief problem is summed up neatly in the title. It never seems to know where it is going.

Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Contributed

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