Happy Birthday Sunita (Tour – Oldham)

Shabana Azmi heads a stellar cast in ”Happy Birthday Sunita”, an entertaining comedy drama about British Asian family life.

Clara Indrani & Shabana Azmi
Clara Indrani & Shabana Azmi

© Helen Maybank

A lifetime of family secrets, hopes and dreams spill out in Happy Birthday Sunita, an entertaining new comedy drama about British Asian family life.

Written by actress Harvey Virdi and inspired by Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, Happy Birthday Sunita takes place in the newly fitted kitchen of British Punjabi family, the Johals. The family has thrown a surprise fortieth birthday party for Sunita, but she’s nowhere to be found.

As the family bicker over the cake, the decorations and the Prosecco, Sunita slips in unnoticed, just in time to hear her brother and sister-in-law pull her to pieces. As the family drama hits boiling point, a lifetime of secrets, hopes and dreams come pouring out.

Multi-award winning Indian actress Shabana Azmi heads a stellar cast performance, playing the role of mother Tejpal with quiet poise and subtlety. Ameet Chana and Goldy Notay are equally good as the squabbling son and daughter-in-law, particularly Notay as the healthy-eating fashionista Harleen who totters around the kitchen sipping ‘champagne’ as she orders her husband around and sucks up to her mother-in-law.

Whilst the play predominately appeals to a British Asian audience (jokes were performed in a mixture of English and Punjabi) the underlying themes of family ties, loyalty and personal freedom are universal. Virdi does a wonderful job of mixing comedy and humour and with the darker themes of personal freedom and family loyalty.

The play's not without it's flaws though, as Tejpal and Sunita’s personal dramas however do feel a little rushed at the end, particularly Sunita’s story which is left almost unresolved as the characters leave the stage and the lights fall.

This is a minor quibble though, as this is am Intriguing, entertaining play,full of social satire, and Happy Birthday Sunita is a rare thing, as it's a comic family drama that explores British Asian bi-culturalism with wit, humour and intelligence.

Happy Birthday Sunita is at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 11 October and tours nationally to 25 October.