Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Traverse Theatre 5 August 2008 - Free Outgoing

A production by the Royal Court Theatre of a play by Anupama Chandrasekhar.

India is a land full of contrasts, and one of the most evident is that between the avid adoption of new techology such as 4G mobile phones and a moral conservatism that seems to Western eyes quaint at best and suffocating at worst. Chennai, centre of Tamil society (and thus of Tamil cinema) is renowned for its moral stringency in the way that Aberdeen used to be in Scotland. In this play, technology and morality both play their parts. Meet the Haridas family. Widowed mother Malini (38), son Sharan (16), daughter Deepa (15). A model (albeit one-parent) family: until Deepa is suspended from school for having sex with her boyfriend on the premises. And it gets worse: the boyfriend filmed some of the action on his phone, and of course while Deepa appears in it he does not. He sends the video to a friend and in an instant it's all over the school and beyond, and by the next day it's on the web. Deepa and (the innocent) Sharan are expelled from school, and a media scrum develops outside their house which leads to such inconvenience for residents of their estate that they are asked to leave. In desperation they agree to appear on a TV talk show in return for passage out of India (Deepa's boyfriend and his family have already done a runner).

The play deals with many issues: teenage sexuality in a deeply conservative society; the effect of technology on privacy; the difficulty of knowing whether a "friend" is truly disinterested, or motivated by lust for the mother, or for the daughter; the culture of celebrity; media intrusion; television as a moral arbiter. And it manages all this without Deepa's ever appearing on stage. It is as though her transgression is so great that not even the audience can be permitted to see her.
I thought this was an exceptional piece of theatre. The acting, especially by Lolita Chakrabarti as Malini and Amit Shah as Sharan, was superb, and the script was wonderful. I never for a moment found any character less than fully believable, and while it's tempting to come over all colonial and imagine that we in Britain are more enlightened in our attitudes, the fact is that when I was a child we were not so different, and there are communities in Britain (not Tamil for the most part) which even now take a similarly uncompromising view of sexual morality. The play's title refers to the tariff for text messaging, but could also refer to Deepa's personality. That hers is the one point of view we never get to hear seems to me completely true to modern Indian life.

This play, then, is one for which I would recommend you try to get tickets by fair means or foul. If you couldn't get tickets for David Tennant in Hamlet at Stratford, then OK, bummer, but this production (while shorter on eye candy and TV stars) is right up there with the best. See it if you can.

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