While the “guess what’s going on at our theater” emails have been coming fast and furiously this September, most of them have been going into the rotating “I’m very sorry but I’ve failed to get excited” bin, save one: an announcement of a production of “The Miser” being done by Tara Arts theater in Earlsfield. This theater has a warm spot in my heart, partially because it’s so close to my house and I’m excited about being able to see shows in my neighborhood; but also because the last show I saw there, A Bollywood Cinderella, stole my heart away as the best panto of the year. Would turning a South Asian eye to a French classic bring the whole endeavor more brilliantly to life? I felt hopeful and kept a date open to go early in the run (and Tara kindly furnished me with much appreciated comps).
To my delight, this show was a reunion of some of the key creatives of the earlier show, with Hardeep Singh Kohli and Jatinder Verma as writer/co-writer (Verma also directing as he did for Cinderella) – something I didn’t know as I walked in but was able to tell immediately based on the snappy dialogue and the deep engagement with the South Indian community. The play stuck very closely to Moliere’s original – a tightfisted old man with two children eager to wed – but took a million liberties that made the play both very stuck in to its Indian setting (i.e. Harjinder, the miser, is a devotee of the path of Ghandi – at least from the point of how much money he wants to spend) and very fresh and engaging (I liked that the asides were often done as songs, with Sohini Alam in the wings singing the actor’s parts, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the misguided westerner, Frosine, explaining how her chakras were all in alignment as she attempted to work her matchmaking magic).
The acting was really very zippy, with Krupa Pattani back as the miser’s daughter, Dimple (so adorable!), the very sexy Sam Kordbacheh as her boyfriend Valmiki (the ideal lover, I couldn’t help but seem him as a Krisha/Adonis cross, yum!), and the remarkably harsh Antony Bunsee as Harjinder the miser, so very much in love with his money more than any of his children (and Deven Modha, Mehrish Yasin and Caroline Kilpatrick filling out the cast). Though there wasn’t much budget spent on extras, still the simple costumes captured character well (I loved the flowered dress for Mariam and the over the top fat dress for servant Lalli Farishta) and the tiny set changes very successfully made the brick walled building into (for example) a garden.
In short, this was a perfect jewelbox of a play, with engaging acting, a riotous script, and lovely touches (like the music, which could have stood on its own) that made me believe that these classics really did have a life outside of the Dead White Men world of theater. And all this for only 15 quid! I’m sure there will be lots more sold out houses; as for me, I’m getting my tickets to Dick Whittington Goes Bollywood before the word gets out how great the home-grown shows at this off the beaten path venue are.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 28th, 2012. It closes on October 13th.)