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Gandhi & Coconuts (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
THERE are giggles aplenty in Kali Theatre Company’s latest offering Gandhi and Coconuts by Bettina Gracias (on tour and seen at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal). But below the humour lies serious contemplation of sanity v. happiness and the sacrifices made to fit into a foreign culture.

Asha, engagingly played by Coronation Street’s Sophiya Haque, has left her vibrant community in Goa to live in a drab high rise in a hostile UK so her husband (Rez Kempton) can earn enough to send financial support to the extended family at home.

Alice Hoult’s 2D monochrome set poignantly reflects the tedium of Asha’s enforced isolation and colourless life where neighbours are racist and shopkeepers taciturn.

Afraid to go out and with no friends to invite in, her life consists of cleaning, cooking (with coconut), waiting on her exhausted husband and a quick ‘sneeze in the dark’ on Saturday nights. That is until a trio of unlikely friends come knocking at her door to set in motion a fun, farcical slide into dual personality.

Following a harmless tea party with an imaginary friend, Mahatma Ghandi (Gary Pillai) is first to come a-knocking. This is, irreverently, a man who regrets having fanatically abstained from pleasure and with an appetite to make up for lost time. He urges Asha to distain sacrifice and enjoy life while she can: grabbing whatever she wants with both hands - whether that is crisp jallebies or frivolity. And who could forget Gandhi as Ganesh dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy complete with pink tutu?

Hot on his heels is the dynamic husband and wife divine duo Shiva and Kali. The wonderfully aggressive and petulant siren Kali (a suitably sexy and stroppy Nimmi Harasgama) deigns to teach Asha how to release her inner tiger while flirting with and admonishing her wayward husband (Shakespeare stalwart Robert Mountford).

Under the direction of Janet Steel, Gracias’s overly long play deals with some big issues: the role of Indian women; the problems and perceptions of and about Asians in the UK, whether it is better to be happy or sane, timid or madly embracing the big wide world… but they are lost in the fantastical fun. I also found the momentum was lost by having an interval which some careful pruning could perhaps avoid.

Some lovely characterisation, thought-provoking ideas and laughter but in all somewhat patchy.