It’s not just the gypsy in my soul, but there’s something about Natasha Langridge’s new play at the Soho that stirs sympathy for the Romany roadsters who live on the outskirts and under motorways with their china dolls, tribal loyalties and quaint old language.
The title, a Sanskrit word, means “faith” - you are what’s in your heart, apparently, and that’s sometimes hard to live up to, as Jade Williams’ impulsive heroine soon finds out. She’s intrigued by a lad, Joe, on the other side of the fence who’s not one of her kind - he’s a gorger, a non-gypsy.
So they fall in love, as the bulldozers move in to clear the East End area for the upcoming Olympic Games. It reminds me of that fantastic play the Maly Theatre of St Petersburg brought here, Stars in the Morning Sky, about the Russian authorities’ determination to clean up the image of the Moscow Games in 1980 by flushing out the prostitutes.
This piece doesn’t have a comparable civic or political dimension, and as an alternative lifestyle idyll it’s not in the same league as Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. But it does have a wonderful linguistic zing about it, and it does catch something raw and rueful about the European travellers, doomed to die out by their own freedom and customs.
Lisa Goldman’s production is vivid and engaging, as Joe makes a commitment Pearl can’t handle and his father (Jim Pope) struggles with his antipathy towards the gypsies as a law-abiding, foul-mouthed taxpayer. Joe, played with a rippling muscular beauty by Alex Waldmann, has the most tremendous descriptive set piece of running away to the Romany circus in Cumbria and ending up in a bare knuckle fight.
Williams’s Pearl glistens almost too plaintively, her voice bursting with girlish urgency, as she climbs the tree in John Bausor’s impressive design, or skins a rabbit, plucking at its entrails, as a final test for Joe.
The last few pages in an 80-minute caravan ride are all a bit of bumpy muddle, but there's a touching performance from Miranda Foster as Pearl’s mum and a lovely study in ancient resignation - complete with surprise gypsy fandango - from Anna Carteret as her granny.