NOTE: The following review dates from September 2004 and this production's earlier tour stop at London's Watermans Arts Centre. For current cast and venue information, see performance listings.
Why does it always have to be weddings? It seems that every time Indian culture appears in the mainstream, there’s a wedding close behind. And this production from Asian company Rifco is no exception. As writer and director Pravesh Kumar points out, there is an obsession with weddings in Indian culture that borders on the obsessive. “You don’t marry people, you marry families,” as one of the characters observes.
The story is a simple one. Sona is to be married to Rishi but has doubts. Is there a place for arranged marriages in a world where the notion of romantic love is held so strongly? Perhaps more broadly, how tightly can Asian families hold on to their traditions in a Western world?
Little happens. The ending can be guessed well before the end, and the only thing to do is to sit back and enjoy the exuberance of the cast and the excellent music (courtesy of music director Khuljit Bhamra).
The staging is interesting. The audience are treated as if they’re guests at the wedding, with food and drink provided at the interval (if you’re feeling hungry, get near the front). It certainly helps to create a sense of involvement with the occasion.
But perhaps Kumar should have been a bit bolder. The Deranged Marriage occasionally touches on more serious issues; for example, the role of the white daughter-in-law in one of the families and the treatment of outsiders. There are also brief hints of financial malfeasance which come to nothing. Was there a darker play trying to come out?
Another director might have picked up on these elements. I’m not convinced it’s a good idea when a writer directs their own play. Another director might have tightened up the acting too. It’s of variable quality and some of the comic timing, in particular, is badly awry.
In one respect, this production is a notable triumph. When theatre audiences stubbornly remain overwhelmingly white and middle-aged, it’s a joy to see so many young people enjoying this play. It also makes a nice change to attend a performance where the number of white people is in single figures – at least that means there’s plenty of laughter for the Punjabi jokes here.
For all The Deranged Marriage’s faults, and there are many, it must be said that the audience loved it. And, in a way, so did I. There’s enough exuberance and charm to make one forget all the bad points. It certainly made me want to see another Rifco production - I wouldn’t want to miss out on the ladoos next time.
- Maxwell Cooter (reviewed at the Watermans Arts Centre, London)