Sweet, docile Simmy arrives in Gravesend from her native Punjab to take up residence with her new husband, Raj. Unfortunately, Raj has other ideas and absconds, down the drainpipe, back to his life of crime. Simmy is marooned, trapped in the house by a mother-in-law who fears public humiliation and ogled with growing curiosity by nosy neighbours. It becomes plain that Raj is in no hurry to enjoy domestic bliss. But Raj has a brother – handsome student Harry. No prizes, I’m afraid, for guessing what transpires.
Pravesh Kumar’s new play is in similar territory to his last, very successful drama, The Deranged Marriage. There, with the help of deft comedy, he explored the tense period leading up to an arranged marriage and, through that, the difficulties faced by many communities of upholding tradition while adapting to a changing world. Here, it is the period directly after the marriage that is under scrutiny, but the problems are similar. The piece is darker – Raj’s slide into serious crime is a matter of real concern and Simmy’s status as powerless housemaid is disturbing. I like it for this, but it does create problems: just as the young people in the play are caught between two cultures, so too the piece itself is caught, sometimes uneasily, between serious drama and comedy. Some of the comedy feels forced: the gawping “aunties” begin to grate a bit.
But gradually the play, in Kumar’s effervescent production for Rifco Arts, wins you over. There are some laugh-out-loud lines: Simmy’s complaint, for instance, that even the local police know her husband better than she does. Kumar drolly observes cultural confusions: Simmy learns English from EastEnders and serves baked beans with Indian spices. And the cast delivers the play with a hint of mischief, occasionally bursting into splendidly over-the-top Bollywood dance numbers to express their hidden feelings. The dance sequences are exuberant, but also surprisingly touching: dry ice and sequins amid the drab terraced houses.
Somehow Kumar’s blend of sentimentality and playfulness disarms you, so that when Simmy (the enchanting Vineeta Rishi) and Harry (the suavely handsome Rik Makarem) finally get together, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or cheer.
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