Lyric Studio Hammersmith, London W6/touring
Opened 11 October, 2001

As British-Asian company Tamasha's infectious mock-Bollywood musical Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings And A Funeral returns to the Lyric Hammersmith's main house, they also unveil a much more sombre piece in the Lyric's studio. Ghostdancing is a version of Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin set in the modern-day Punjab.

Adapter Deepak Verma (best known as Sanjay in EastEnders) has stuck relatively close to Zola's original. Thérèse becomes Rani, cousin, adoptive sister and now wife to the weak, spoilt, self-declared invalid Raj, a small-town railway clerk. When Raj is reunited at work with his old school friend Nitin, the latter's childhood attraction to Rani is rekindled; they embark on an affair, and finally kill Raj. Far from bringing the adulterous couple happiness, the deed throws them into fevers of guilt and fury against one another; even after marriage, they are haunted not only by Raj but latterly by the unblinking eyes of his immobile mother, who has suffered a stroke in her grief.

Verma's adaptation is intelligent and considered. However, the intervals of six months or a year between acts mean that as staged, Anjali Jay as Rani sometimes has a hard time of it, transforming within the duration of a single kiss from the demure and honourable though stifled wife of Act One (with Jay's beauty lending her the apparent grace of a martyr in icon) to the awakened and ill-concealed fire of Act Two and then in turn to the woman racked by guilt after the interval. We see her in each state, but no dramatised transitions. Sue Mayes' elegant design looks simpler than it is: a couch in the main room extends behind a gauze as the marital bed in which Rani and Nitin (Rehan Sheikh) conduct their illicit assignations, the bolts of cloth stored for Raj's mother's shop downstairs are unwound to become the river on which Raj makes his final, fatal boat trip with the lovers on the night of Diwali.

Kristine Landon-Smith directs with her customary care for pervasive atmosphere as well as foreground narrative, but in so doing contributes the production's single major weakness. The domestic rituals, the real or imagined illness of Raj and so on are imbued with an accurately leisurely tropical pace, but in terms of drama this makes matters seem simply torpid. The air is thick with inaction long before Rani and Nitin find themselves trapped in the amber of their crime. At bottom, the story possesses an energy which the direction deliberately but quite mistakenly eschews.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2001

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage