Thursday, 19 June 2014

Theatre review: Khandan (Family)

Roxana Silbert recently took over at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and has started by bringing back a controversial figure from the theatre's past: Ten years ago Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's play Behzti (Dishonour) was taken off after offending Sikhs. But Bhatti is also a writer for The Archers, and as her new play Khandan (Family) comes to London, it proves to be less explosive, and more gentle family drama. Jeeto (Sudha Bhuchar) has recently lost her husband, by all accounts a kind man but one with a drink problem. She now lives in a suburban house that's too big for her with her son Pal (Rez Kempton,) who's now running the shop his late father left him. Jeeto keeps up a pretense of disapproval that he married a white woman, but in reality she dotes on Liz (Lauren Crace,) who's as much part of the family as her own children.

When her alcoholic nephew in the Punjab deserts his wife, Jeeto invites Reema (Preeya Kalidas) to Birmingham to live in one of the spare rooms, and find a new man. But as Pal's marriage falls apart and his business plans fail, Reema's presence only complicates things further.

Jamie Vartan's thrust set surrounds the audience with photos of (sometimes long-dead) family members, a touch that's another case of very different cultures being the same in many ways as I could think of a number of Greek houses it reminded me of. The windows look out onto an affluent suburban neighbourhood (although from the angle it would appear Jeeto's kitchen is hovering somewhere above the middle of the road) but for scene changes they turn into screens for Bollywood-inspired projections designed by Nathan Jones (who's been gone too long.)

This kitsch aesthetic doesn't quite extend to Silbert's naturalistic production though, and Khandan (Family) ends up an interesting enough drama infused with a theme of alcohol insidiously destroying a family. But there's also some strong comic moments, many coming from Zita Sattar as Pal's beautician sister, Cookie ("The salon's closed on New Year's Day. You don't want to be doing a Brazilian with a hangover.")

It's well-performed and has many good moments, but Khandan (Family) is probably a bit too gentle and understated to end up being truly memorable.

Khandan (Family) by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti is booking until the 28th of June at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

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