Park Theatre – until 24 March. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Simon Dormandy’s adaptation of EM Forster’s novel is a pared back, but intense production in simple8’s signature style.
Elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther) arrives in Chandrapore in British India with her prospective daughter-in-law Adela (Phoebe Pryce) to see her son, magistrate Ronny (Edward Killingback) at work. The ladies long to see the “real” India, and Mrs Moore meets Muslim doctor Aziz (Asif Khan) who invites them to see the famous Marabar Caves. At the caves, the mystical echoes overwhelm the two ladies, and Adela ‘s discomfort leads to Aziz being accused of assault.
Dora Schweitzer’s stark set design is a perfect backdrop for the choreographed movement and vocal chorus used by the cast to represent caves, lakes and trains (and if you don’t break into a goofy smile when you see the ladies’ transportation to the caves, then you have a heart of stone). The scenes within the caves are particularly intense, the disturbing thrumming echo making the ladies’ reactions completely believable. Directors Simon Dormandy and Sebastian Armesto have managed to conjure up the atmosphere of colonial India with excellent stage craft, aided by Kuljit Bharmra’s fantastic original music.
The cast slip out of character to narrate their feelings and actions, meaning that some of Forster’s wonderfully evocative descriptions and his musings on faith and religion aren’t lost. The prejudice and unfairness of colonial India are laid bare in the scenes at the club, and the exasperated reactions of Aziz and his friends Hamidullah (Tibu Fortes) and Mahmoud Ali (Maanuv Thiara) bring some of the biggest laughs. Ranjit Krishnamma is comedy gold as Godbole, with perfectly timed pauses and interminable stories. The whole cast give fine performances, especially Asif Khan’s finely nuanced portrayal of larger than life Aziz from his striving for friendship with the English to his final rampant anti-colonialism. Liz Crowther is suitably mystical and ethereal as Mrs Moore, and Phoebe Pryce’s Adela is a ball of pent-up nervous energy.
This is a gloriously energetic production, evoking the tension and mystery of 1920s India with humour and style.