Coming Up (Watford Palace Theatre)

Brigid Larmour directs the premiere of Neil D’Souza’s play

Neil D'Souza's heartfelt meditation on the massive changes India has undergone and a British Indian's search for his cultural identity and long estranged Father, is something very special indeed. It is given a richly inventive, playful, terrifically acted production by Brigid Larmour and Shona Morris, utilising dance, mime and sheer theatrical magic to frequently enthralling effect.

D'Souza himself plays Alan, a successful UK businessman returning to Mumbai after more than 30 years, for devastating showdowns with his feisty 80-year-old aunt (superb Goldy Notay who also doubles improbably but entirely successfully as the boyhood version of Alan's Father) and his beloved but long lost "cousin-brother" Daniel (Mitesh Soni, quietly powerful). In an excellent performance, D'Souza doesn't shy away from showing us the less pleasant aspects of Alan's go-getting, somewhat arrogant nature. Despite that, the scenes where he and Soni as Daniel switch between boyhood camaraderie and defensive adulthood are extremely moving.

The message that materialism doesn't automatically make you happy or feed your soul is hardly a new one but such is the bracing theatricality of Larmour's vision and the generosity of spirit of D'Souza's take on his characters, that it never feels hackneyed. I only felt lectured at one point and that was when the Mumbai call centre manager with whom Alan is conducting an extra-marital affair starts quoting facts and figures at him about India's economic growth spurt, in the heat of a domestic dispute. It didn't entirely ring true, especially when in the next moment she is pleading to be taken to London.

As well as the three previously mentioned actors, the role-switching cast of five also features Ravin J Ganatra: magnificent both as Alan's father and his sympathetic Mumbai driver, and Clara Indrani who is hugely impressive in a variety of roles from a sadistic cook through the aforementioned call centre manager, to a mythical tiger. It could all get quite confusing but the fluidity and spare elegance of the staging ensure that it does not.

Rebecca Brower's simple but atmospheric set (three towers of exotic looking bric-à-brac, bisected by strings of lights) is an abstract treat revealing more and more information as the evening progresses, and it is stunningly lit by Prema Mehta.

This is an ambitious piece, and it is to the creative team's credit that it never trivialises its challenging subject matter, and genuinely presents a sense of a massive nation undergoing seismic changes (or "coming up" if you will) while never losing sight of the human beings at the core of the story. I had a lump in my throat for much of it.

Coming Up runs at the Watford Palace Theatre until 24 October.