It sounds such a good idea: Bronte goes to Bollywood in a brand new musical. But Tamasha’s lame cultural appropriation of Emily Bronte’s 1847 Yorkshire story is the worst kind of example of hitching a lift on a title and failing to make it your own, let alone animate the stage.
The doomed love affair of Cathy and Heathcliff is retold in that of graceful Shakantula (Youkti Patel) and lower caste Krishan (Pushpinder Chani), a gypsy Muslim boy from the streets of Bombay adopted into a farming family on the fringe of Rajasthan desert.
Shakantula marries a local landowner (Gary Pillai) for money and security, Krishan goes off for three years and makes his own fortune before returning to take vengeance by marrying Shakantula’s sister-in-law (Sheena Patel). Tragedy is consumed in a fairytale epitaph and a sentimental reunion in the afterlife.
The first weakness of Deepak Verma’s adaptation (which only scratches the surface of about half of the novel) is a total failure to explain the psychology of Krishan’s actions, and there’s no help coming from Chani’s painfully wooden performance. A framing device of an old man fighting over an urn with an impatient listener only confuses the issue until its clodhopping resolution in the narrative.
The tritely melodic songs by Felix Cross and Sheema Mukherjee are played on a backing tape and lip-synched by the actors. But there’s no attempt to indicate whether this is meant to be funny, ironic or just cheap-looking.
The production by Tamasha co-founder Kristine Landon-Smith is as poor as the acting, filling designer Sue Mayes’ hopeful beige desert vistas with perfunctory, under-populated social scenes at the dinner party, or the camel races, tediously decorated with giant Christmas tree baubles – ah, the lost wonder of Woolworth’s - and tangled silk banners.
Sandstorms in the desert are no real substitute for the uncharitable bleakness of the Yorkshire dales, but even on its own terms the Tamasha version – co-produced with the Oldham Coliseum in association with the Lyric – doesn’t make anything magical of the magic lake where Shakantula and Krishan make their private spiritual pact.
This is not so much a case of Wuthering Heights as withering lows, and even the silhouetted camels only succeeded in giving me the hump.