Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi (tour - Colchester, Mercury Theatre Studio)
In present-day London, we are on a building site quite near the Olympic Stadium. Shera's extended family has created a major construction empire for itself since arriving in England; he is the snazzily dressed, brashly confident gang master for the immigrant workers to whom he offers jobs and a measure of security – provided that they follow his rules. Life in London can be harsh, but it's better than being at home in a run-down Punjabi village. Or is it?
Eshwar isn't so sure, though he's able to send some money to the family he left behind. Young Azadeh now only wants to go back – which is difficult, as she is an illegal immigrant with no papers nor the money with which to procure them. In the second act we meet the 1936 ancestors of the trio. Fauji is prepared to cheat his way to what he wants at whatever cost to others. Pavan will fight, and die, for the British Empire; not because he believes in it, but because he sees no viable alternative. Azadeh (the elder) is a Communist guerrilla, ready to be a suicide bomber and impatient with both men for their attitude towards their country.
Helena Bell's production is part naturalistic and part symbolic, just like the characters. The title, by the way, refers to an ancient wrestling sport, accepted for the Berlin Olympics but no longer recognised for post-war Games. Designer Sophia Lovell-Smith and choreographer Jasmine Simhalan show us a no-holds-barred arena, a red sand cockpit for the wrenching of limbs and even the spilling of blood backed by appropriately half-finished scaffolding.
The acting is committed, with Shalini Peiris making the two women, so very different in their attitudes and reactions, thoroughly credible. You sympathise with Asif Khan's fundamentally decent Eshwar and Fauji, two men who seem born to be losers all round. Pushpinder Chani's Shera and Pavan are archetypical grafters, the sort who will nearly always come out on top, however deep and murky the morass into which they tread other people.