Last Dance at Dum Dum at the Ambassadors Theatre
The six Anglo-Indian characters in Ayub Khan-Din's Last Dance at Dum Dum are a little like the stuccoed bungalow where they reside in the centre of Calcutta: a decaying remnant of two hundred years of British rule and culture, being slowly eroded by post-colonial India.
The chief of their problems is that they're down to their last rupee, which leaves the way open for their scheming Hindu fundamentalist neighbour Mr Chakravatty (Madhav Sharma) to annex their garden. He sums up their present predicament in decidedly blunt terms - since the British have cleared off, he says, they've been left 'bent over with their trousers round their ankles'.
Last Dance is set in 1981, but you almost wouldn't guess it, since these mixed-race throwbacks act as if it's 1881. They take tea on the verandah, milk punch on the lawn and throw soirees, in some grotesque recreation of Surbiton-on-the-Hooghly. As a symbolic gesture of their continuing survival, they decide to host one final bash (the 'Last Dance' of the title).
The whole thing is very Merchant Ivory-ish, so it's no surprise when Madhur Jaffrey wanders onstage as the fearsome Muriel Marsh. Prone to protracted bouts of ranting (a result of a progressively worsening brain tumour), Muriel directs her ire at the 'bloody English' and the 'natives' with equal ferocity.
Elsewhere, Khan-Din has sketched a dotty bunch of septagenarian residents: Rashid Karapiet's fragile Mr Jones, whose daywear is a tuxedo, Muriel's moustachioed husband Bertie (Nicholas Le Prevost), all starched linen and club ties, spinsters Daphne and Violet (Avril Elgar and Sheila Burrell), and a lanky, gay houseboy who specialises in Marilyn Monroe impersonations (Paul Bazely).
Into this lunatic asylum enters Lydia Buller Hughes (Diana Fairfax), seemingly straight from an episode of The Jewel in the Crown, to take up residence in the spare room. Although they expect her to be another condescending Brit, she quickly becomes a saviour to the household, nursing Muriel through a fit, and foiling Chakravatty's plans.
Under Stuart Burge's direction, Last Dance at Dum Dum does get carried away with itself at times (some of the shouting, for example, was almost unbearable). Nevertheless, Khan-Din has to be applauded for creating an exotic, faded snapshot of a group of outsiders struggling to cope with change. Designer Tim Hately also deserves a cheer for transporting around five tons of colonial Calcutta to the stage of the Ambassadors.