Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
  Opened 30 April, 2009

Out in the wily, windy desert of Rajasthan they’d roll and fall in sand... Not exactly the orthodox version, either of Emily Brontë’s novel or Kate Bush’s song, but the Tamasha company’s “Bollywood” adaptation is close enough to be familiar and is generally successful.
The action has been relocated from the bleak Yorkshire moors to the inhospitable territory of what is now north-western India, at more or less the same early nineteenth-century period. Kristine Landon-Smith’s cast faithfully lip-sync to English-language “playback” numbers written for the production and recorded in Bangalore. Lyricist Felix Cross and his co-composer Sheema Mukherjee achieve optimum crossover appeal, especially with the two major numbers between the central couple, “What The Rajkumari Wants” and “The Sun Will Rise”.
Deepak Verma changes little of Brontë’s story apart from the names and the fact that, like the classic 1939 Hollywood version, the plot more or less ends with Cathy’s death. Here Cathy is Shakuntala, who grows up sharing a more than sisterly bond with Krishan (alias Heathcliff), a beggar boy taken in by her father and raised as his own son. Again, there is a jealous biological brother who abuses Krishan/Heathcliff on the father’s death; again, Shakuntala/Cathy marries a wealthy man, Krishan disappears for years and then returns with a mysterious fortune and intent on revenge and regaining Shakuntala; again, he is haunted by her for years afterwards. Pushpinder Chani smoulders effectively as Krishan, and Youkti Patel is passionate yet irresolute as Shakuntala. In another astute touch, Verma turns the maid Nelly Dean into Shakuntala’s ayah (playd by Rina Fatania).
The novel’s several framing devices here become the single framework of an old man in a marketplace retelling the story to a young urchin in order to have his cherished urn returned to him: the ageing Krishan, carrying Shakuntala’s ashes. This framework also makes for some points about class and wealth, as young Changoo walks through scenes and numbers unremarked by the characters, ostensibly because they are merely figures in old Baba’s story but also because he is beneath their notice in terms of caste. I am astounded to find that Tamasha are already 20 years old; although cultural hybrids have become much more common on British stages in that time, they remain at the forefront, demonstrating consistently that “multicultural” is more than a mere buzzword.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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