'Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall: here is my space' Act I, Scene I Anthony and Cleopatra
Imperial India. The smell of street food wafts through the air; the vibrant colours of saris and spices excite the senses as we walk down through the local market. Sellers approach us offering their goods though we decline politely as we continue to track our main protagonist, Aziz, through his journey.
This is what I had hoped for as I sat in the Old Vic waiting for the audience to take their seats to see E. M Forster’s classic: A Passage to India reimagined. Unfortunately, despite the spirited performances, I was left wholly unsatisfied; maybe it was my initial expectations which raised the bar too high, then again, maybe it wasn’t.
The play starts with a simple set: a few boxes, some screens at the back providing a sense of depth. Although not the initial style I was expecting it still created a nice contrast between the locals’ living quarters and the lavish lifestyles of the British with their high tea and polo. A highlight for me was the creation of the carriage and elephant using only the cast and some material. This added to the excitement and majesty I had been yearning for throughout the performance and it was a shame that such physical stage tricks weren’t used more to conjure up further impressive spectacles.
The music by Kuljit Bhambra provided the driving force behind the play and helped create the feeling that the audience had been transported to India for two hours. It was an enjoyable aspect of the production, but I feel at times could have been used to greater effect; perhaps to accompany the feelings of the characters or to heighten our senses during scenes of anticipation or drama rather than only setting the scene.
The award winning Simple8 cast gave passionate performances with special mentions going to Liz Crowther for her role as Mrs. Moore and to Asif Khan for his portrayal of Aziz. Despite this, the overarching feeling of the play was that of it being stifled by the portrayal of the overbearing British stereotype. Somehow the relationships between the characters, whether it be husband and wife-to-be or mother and son, were lost amongst the politeness between them and so the performance felt stilted at times- even with Aziz’s comic timing providing light relief.
This all being said, I still enjoyed watching the performance. The adaption of the play does not just consider many of the political and cultural questions we still speak and debate about in our society today, but develops upon issues such as immigration and religious and cultural integration. However, A Passage to India left me wanting more; as I walked out the theatre hall I thought back to one of Mrs. Moore’s lines: “I like mysteries but I rather dislike muddles”.
I would have to agree, except in this case I am unsure where this play lies in the quagmire between the two.
If this article interested you, a synopsis of the play can be found here