Love N Stuff
A year on from the hit Wah! Wah! Girls, writer Tanika Gupta and members of the original cast return with a "hilarious and touching story of love" at the Theatre Royal Stratford East
Tanika Gupta's Wah! Wah! Girls was one of last year's liveliest and most colourful musicals, spiritedly exploiting the rude dislocations between East End Asians and their own native Bollywood and dance culture.
She's now rescued two of the characters, a middle-aged married couple at loggerheads, and written them a skilful, fast-moving two-hander set in a departure lounge at Heathrow, which she dedicates to the late Sophiya Haque, so gracious and beautiful in Wah! Wah!
And what a joy to see two wonderful comic actors – Rina Fatania, an energetic bundle of feisty fun as Bindi; and Tony Jayawardena, more lugubrious, a slow burn exponent, as Mansoor – striking sparks off each other: "You used to be romantic"; "You used to be thin."
They're a childless married couple of 35 years, and he's had enough of love in a cold climate. He's high-tailing it back to Delhi for sunshine and school friends. But the flight's delayed, and Bindi's on the war path with a box of pakoras and a bunch of memories.
This is the first time I've seen the "studio" arrangement at Stratford East. It seems sacrilegious (and needlessly defeatist) to mask off that hallowed, already intimate auditorium and plonk a show-with-audience (about 120 of us) on the stage itself.
But Kerry Michael's production, set in a white-brick no-man's-land, with costumes by Keith Khan and music by Niraj Chag, proves a good sounding board for the frantic exchanges which involve the actors also cleverly inhabiting airport staff, their nosy neighbours, cinema ushers (on their first date back home), a Scottish policeman, a teenage rapper and a placid guide to erotic carvings in an Indian sun temple.
Bindi trained as a doctor, Mansoor as an engineer; she's Hindi, he's Muslim. Their family histories, their friendship and honeymoon, their hopes and disappointments, all come into focus in this symbolic suspension between the "new life" and the homeland.
Gupta's play is quite a soft-centred piece, but that doesn't obviate the depth of feeling in the revelation surrounding Mansoor's helpless infidelity with an exotic masseuse (hilariously done by Fatania as a hippie harridan with a vibrating muscularity) and the shadow this casts on their marital maturation. Lovely writing, beautiful acting.