Love N Stuff (Theatre Royal, Stratford East)
Tanika Gupta returns to Stratford East with her revised 2013 comedy
Tanika Gupta's sweet comedy, back in a revised form after it's initial run in 2013, is an unashamed crowd pleaser.
The piece is founded on the somewhat implausible premise that middle aged Mansoor is returning to live in India having left only a parting note for his beloved wife Bindi at their home in Stratford. These characters were originally created for the joyous Kneehigh/Sadlers Wells/Stratford East co-produced musical The Wah Wah Girls back in 2012, and they proved so popular with audiences that they got their own show. It isn't hard to see why. They are great company.
The majority of the action here takes place in the departure lounge at Heathrow where Mansoor is waiting for his eternally delayed flight to be called, when Bindi turns up armed with his farewell letter, a lunchbox full of homemade pakoras... and a ton of attitude. Also getting in on the act are their lodgers (an eccentric pair of former Olympians), their surrogate son (a 16 year old white kid hilariously addicted to street speak), a clueless Duty Free fragrance seller, a highly suspicious Scottish policewoman, and sundry other passengers and their offspring. So far, so clichéd, but enjoyable...
The conceit is that, à la Stones In His Pockets and John Godber's April In Paris, just two actors perform everything, even down to the overhead flight announcements. This is a fun idea, although some sections could do with sharpening up in Kerry Michael's good-hearted but occasionally sloppy production. There were a few moments where it wasn't entirely clear which character we were watching.
Much of the play is laugh-out-loud funny, Gupta having a keen eye and ear for the petty snobberies and random eccentricities of modern British life, as well as clearly a deep affection for her central characters. It isn't all laughs though: Mansoor is a Muslim while Bindi is Hindu and the script touches on the conflicts inherent in that, as well as the pain of the couple never having had children together. To be honest, I could have lived without the last minute veer into soap opera territory which, for me, compounded the plausibility issue I had with the initial set-up of the piece. I can't expand any further as it would be a spoiler but suffice to say that I was scratching my head instead of wiping my eyes.
As Bindi and assorted other comedy creations including a show stopping turn as Baggy - the streetsmart but soft hearted kid who the couple have all but adopted, Rina Fatania is a wayward delight. Her delivery is priceless even though much of it is directed straight at the audience rather than her fellow actor. She is a very very funny woman; Bindi's venomous denouncement of Ruby, a man-eating hippie neighbour she suspects of seducing Mansoor ("beads and bangles up to her hairy armpits... face caked in so much make-up... looked like something out of Dr Who... called you 'Imran Khan' and talked as if she'd swallowed a bottle of Old Spice") is a masterpiece of comic delivery. Opposite her, Nicholas Khan is no less impressive, finding some touching truth in Mansoor's mixed feelings about the return to India, despite Gupta's script not fully supporting him, and proving wonderfully chameleon-like in a variety of roles, most notably a surprisingly salacious tour guide gleefully describing the assorted couplings carved into an ancient temple wall.
This is a highly agreeable 75 minutes in the theatre, and has a lovely local resonance within Stratford (in a projected sequence near the conclusion a lady in my row was very excited to see her own street up on stage) but it is an undeniably slight piece. You can't not love Bindi and Mansoor though, especially as embodied by Ms Fatania and Mr Khan.
Duration: 80 minutes no interval
Love N Stuff runs at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East until 25 June.