It is not often that I would like a play to be longer but at 1 hour 15 minutes (a press release promise that gladdens the heart) Free Outgoing feels like short change. Set in contemporary Chennai, Southern India, it tells how the discovery of a teenage girl’s rather too free and outgoing activity, captured on cell phone and ending up on the net, potentially destroys her own life and that of her widowered family and earning her the hatred of a whole country.
Chennai being a conservative Tamil region the huge implications of this disaster become swiftly and painfully apparent even to a Western audience who, at first, giggle at a mother being so unaware of her daughter’s own sexual savvy. When, however, the family are under virtual house arrest, not merely shunned but evicted by their own community and faced with a violent mob, we become not only convinced but compelled by this reality created by writer Anupama Chandrasekhar.
It is not a spoiler to reveal that Deepa, the daughter and the centre of drama who is all too recognisable throughout the country due to the efficacy of SMS, remains an off stage presence in the cramped family flat. While this does emphasise issues of identity, of female power and of the ways in which we and our actions are defined by others, it leaves an emotional gap at the heart of the play. But maybe this is the mother’s story and as Malini, a traditional mother bringing up her children in this conflicted modern world, Lolita Chakrabarti drives the show with a subtle, passionate performance that keeps pace with its rushing narrative.
In a strong cast assembled by Indu Rhubasingham, Amit Shah is impressive as Deepa’s model older brother struggling to be the man of the house and Raj Ghatak as the geek from Malini’s office who may have sinister intentions. Rosa Maggiora and Mark Jonathan create and light a deceptively simple set where the walls seem to close in on the tormented family.
Despite the discomfort of the questions it asks this is a world I wanted to spend more time in. By reviving the piece (first premiered upstairs in 2007) the Court offers us a thought provoking and effective but essentially slight play, a frustrating glimpse into another life.