Thali – theatre review

Outside TAPAC stood costumed male entertainers. One wearing an orange suit, that reminded me of a Gangnam vs Bollywood style outfit and another man with glittery harem pants, blue shiny sleeveless shirt and white face; both cackling loudly as patrons entered the foyer.

The atmosphere was buzzing with many Indian supporters dressed in vibrant saris drinking beverages from the bar or the complimentary rose petal drink (gulav sharbat) allocated to each table. A couple of female improvisers worked the crowd in a charming way, welcoming you in.

First up of the four short plays, is ‘Balti Kings’ (Main course) by Sudha Bhuchar and Shaheen Khan. This play is an 8-hander: cast includes Derrick Olivier, Nona Shedde, Amit Ohdedar, Vijesh Nangia, Aman Bajaj, Aamir Kapasi, Sudeepta Vyas and Raj Singh. An Indian restaurant based in Birmingham, UK decides to offer, and advertise on radio “Curryoke Night”, a grande buffet of 35 dishes for a flat fee of £10 to boost business. It is ‘do or die’ for the family business. A web of lies, deceit and surprise unfolds. This main course was a gastronomic experience spiced with humour. The Punjabi proprietor was a laugh a minute.

The performances in ‘Balti Kings’ are consistently authentic and credibility is established from the start with a basic kitchen set. The only things that let this piece down are the use of air props and at times there were too many people on stage which distracted from the storyline.

‘Through The Grapevine’ (Entree) is by Sananda Chatterjee and performed by Monica Mahendru. The set was stripped back to a few beer crates that doubled as a cafe. I struggled To understand this piece. Mahendru spoke at rapid speed playing two characters and it was often difficult to follow the narrative. Although Mahendru was mildly captivating on stage, her articulation made it difficult to emotionally connect with the characters she portrayed.

‘P James for President’ (Side) by Nikhil Sriram is about a magician who fails to make it. The cast includes: Ram Manthry, Kanchan Bandopadhyay, Kaushik Balan and Rahul Chopra. The magician spoke about ‘the government having no place in modern politics’. Magician by day, garbage can looter by night. Could he be President? Lively performance about hope and manifestation. A light hearted piece worthy of being named a side dish.

Lastly for dessert is ‘My name is Cine-ma’ by Mathivanan Rajendran and performed by: Patricia Wichman, Divya Hariharan, Natasha Trilokekar, Arwa Janjali and Madhurima Sen. Instantly I noted the ‘Bollywood’ dream, her wish to be discovered, and escaping the hum drum of school. Although sweet like dessert, this failed to tantalise my taste buds and leave me desiring more; it just lacked clarity. Vibrant costuming in saris with authentic Indian dancing engaged the audience. This was like a snippet of ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ with a female lead.

The lighting throughout ‘Thali’ was mostly natural with some interchanging multi-coloured back drops for ‘My name is Cine-ma’. The music was typically ‘Bollywood-style’ executed with great effect.

Overall this menu satisfied the audiences appetite. It had some stand out moments but not enough to leave with heightened sensory pleasure. This production ‘Thali’ presented by Prayas Theatre and Directed by Ahi Karunaharan and Monica Mahendru is performing at TAPAC until Friday 8th March 2013. ‘Thali’ is worth seeing if you are looking for a mild night out.

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