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  Rafta, Rafta
National Theatre (Lyttelton), London

Joanna Caird
posted 12 July 2007

Revivals can be tricky: one person’s dream is another’s worst nightmare. But Nicholas Hytner makes a good call with his revival of Bill Naughton’s 1963 comedy, All in Good Time. This new adaptation by Ayub Khan-Din (East is East) transposes the action of the original to a modern-day Indian family living in the north of England. It tells the story of Atul (Ronny Jhutti) and Vina (Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi), a newly-married couple, humorously failing to consummate their marriage on the wedding night. The play explores the way the two sets of families place inadvertent pressure on the couple, loading them with expectations for the future.

Meera Syal and the Bollywood star Harish Patel play Atul’s parents, Eeshwar and Lopa Dutt, brilliantly portraying the complex relationships born of raising a family in a foreign culture. Indian music and dance play an important role in the show; Atul and his father clash over the relevance of Indian cultural forms in Britain, Eeshwar feeling abandoned by a first-born who doesn’t share his love of dance. At one point Atul and Eeshwar stop bickering long enough to sing together; this extremely touching moment is over almost before it begins, and only emphasises the distance between them.

The claustrophobia and frustration experienced by Atul and Vina as they start their lives together in the Dutt family home are mirrored by Tim Hatley’s set, all three-piece-suites and brash carpets. There is always someone roaring up and down the stairs, knocking at the front door, shouting through the house. And then, even during the rare moments when the newlyweds do get a moment to themselves, they are never truly alone because the audience is always looking on, granted full visual access to every room.

The other couples in the play, Eeshwar and Lopa, Vina’s parents Laxman (Kriss Dosanjh) and Lata (Shaheen Khan) and Atul’s boss Jivaj (Simon Nagra) and his wife Molly (Natalie Grady), do not offer a reassuring vision of married life. Atul’s parents, although seemingly content, share a dark secret; Lata is consumed by jealousy for Vina’s relationship with Laxman; Molly, a sweet and generous woman, must deal with Jivaj’s chauvinist attitudes and wandering eye. The message here is that relationships are not easy; Atul and Vina will have to work hard to make a success of their marriage.

This play addresses some series issues, but a funny, tightly-written script and some excellent acting keep the mood light. Etash Tailor, a young man who works with Atul at the Jivaj’s cinema, is not a complex character, but Arsher Ali makes the most of this minor role, his gentle mockery of the older characters providing some amusing moments. Although there are moments in this production that may go over the heads of a non-Indian audience, for the most part the play’s themes are universal: family pressures; love; personal ambition; and of course fathers getting drunk and dancing at weddings.

Till 8 September 2007.

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