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Merchants of Bollywood (tour)

Too Close to Home (London & tour)

By • West End
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The best way to get a perspective on the global terrorist threat is to see it in close-up. And the best way for the white British population to understand the Muslim point of view is to turn away from headlines and encounter “ordinary” people facing domestic challenges. Rani Moorthy (author of the celebrated Curry Tales) seems to have had such notions in mind when she wrote Too Close to Home, a production by her company, Rasa, in conjunction with the Library Theatre, Manchester as part of The Mix programme at the Lyric.

Kalida (Moorthy herself) and Ghulam are a middle-aged Sufi couple who consider themselves integrated into English society. Their two sons represent the attitudes of the next generation: their accents may be indistinguishably Brit, but they feel a need to align themselves more decidedly with their heritage. Sayeed, (Sartaj Garewal) has become ostentatiously religious while Saleem (Dharmesh Patel) has a more sinister desire to serve a wider, less religious, notion of Islam which he covers with naughty-boy teen exploits and a taste for rap. Ghulam’s much younger sister, Raziya (Stephanie Street), a besuited seller of insurance, is grateful to the country where she grew up. Having visited Pakistan when her mother was dying she couldn’t wait to return home to England.

Moorthy’s characters argue the points of view assigned to them, but the liveliest, most believable exchanges occur between the parents as they go about the business of celebrating the end of the fast of Ramadan. Ghulam (Shiv Grewal), a maths teacher retired because he is in the throes of a mysterious break-down explained only in the last minutes, is a foil for his exuberant wife. Kalida is the only truly rounded character: repressed yet extravagantly expressive, a conventional wife yet bossily in control, wickedly humorous, loving, a demon cook (food is the symbol of family cohesion) and a furious neighbour - well the benighted man next door is ditching pork scratchings in her Muslim bin after all - she is brought vividly to life by the author.

Rachana Jadhav’s white set, its floor covered in pages from news magazines, provides a stylised home for this mix of soapy naturalism and politics.

When the crisis comes - one too long foreseen (the piece would benefit from losing a good twenty minutes) - director Iqbal Khan ups the tension by requiring Sayeed to partake in something close to a Jacobean mad scene, twitching, grimacing and pulling the petals off roses. Unfortunately, this behaviour tends to draw giggles and has the opposite of the desired effect.

This is an important, timely subject and it is good to be reminded, for instance, that a religious Muslim is not necessarily anything other than religious, but Moorthy hasn’t managed quite to avoid the pitfalls of apparently crying, like chat show host Mrs Merton: “Let’s have a heated debate!”

- Heather Neill (reviewed at the Lyric Hammersmith.)


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