Review: An Adventure (Bush Theatre)

Vinay Patel’s beguiling play portrays 54 years of a relationship

Anjana Vasan (Jyoti) in An Adventure at the Bush Theatre
Anjana Vasan (Jyoti) in An Adventure at the Bush Theatre
© Helen Murray

A young couple, nearly wed, step into the sea. Rasik can't swim, so clings to his teenage bride-to-be Jyoti as she winds herself around him in the Indian Ocean. Holding onto each other, the two lovers resist the pull of the tide.

In An Adventure, Jyoti and Rasik hold tight as history sweeps them around a changing world. Vinay Patel's beguiling play follows their relationship over 54 years, from a marriage arranged in newly independent India to a new life in Kenya as colonial rule comes under attack, and on to Britain and the humdrum hardships of first generation immigrant life. It's a story we usually see in distinct segments. Patel follows the thread in full.

At its simplest, An Adventure is a portrait of a marriage – an arranged marriage, but a marriage like any other. Beginning with Rasik's 'audition' for Jyoti's hand – "Yep, you'll do", she scoffs with teenage frankness – it starts flushed with youthful lust and optimism only to flounder as familiarity and family life set in. It's defined as much by its little intimacies – jokes, pecks and care – as its momentous, life-changing decisions. As Patel draws it, beautifully, marriage is an everyday reality that, over a lifetime, adds up to an epic story of its own; an adventure.

So's life, as it weaves its way through unfolding history. By tying an arranged marriage to the end of empire, Patel's play is concerned with the idea of independence. In Kenya, where Rasik buys land on behalf of a native Kikuyu farmer (a powerful Martins Imhangbe), rising up in resistance is offset against keeping one's head down to get ahead. As the Mau Mau spread terror, their principled uprising makes Rasik's peaceful, pragmatism look altogether self-serving. Jyoti, for her part, tacks between the two; refusing to endanger her family by harbouring a fugitive, but leading a workers' strike in Britain at the behest of her husband and daughter. Patel's keenly attuned to the spectrums of power: husbands can colonize wives, the betrayed can betray others in turn.

It's a global story told on the ground, seismic political shifts seen through people's real lives and it's that which makes An Adventure so entrancing. Character comes first, and Patel makes us care for everyone on his stage; all of them doing their best to live well. Anjana Vasan is superb as Jyoti. Gentle but headstrong, spiky but mischievous, she lets us spot the teenage girl in the middle-aged mother. Alongside her, Shubham Saraf balances Rasik's mix of earnestness, irritability and self-abasing driving. Madani Younis' spare, languid direction lets you fall for the pair of them again and again.

That said, it's not without frustrations – big ones at that. After a blistering first act, the play's horizons shrink and its pace slows, just as ours do in life. It does, however, mean the drama drags and as Patel insists on give these stories their due space, he slips into self-indulgence. His aphoristic writing starts to feel strained and a recurring motif about representation – Jyoti's a lifelong cinephile entranced by the possibility of seeing herself onscreen – feels too self-aggrandising, serving little purpose beyond flagging its own efforts in overturning untruths. An Adventure knows its own brilliance, but in wallowing in it, the play almost drowns.