Shraddhar

Natasha Langridge

Soho Theatre

(2009)

Review by Howard Loxton

This is a cross-culture story of young lovers: Romany girl Pearl and Joe, a gorger ('house-living'- i.e. non-gypsy) boy who has fallen for her, bewitched by the sparkle in her eyes. Her family have had a gypsy husband lined up since her childhood, promised to each other by a special song that binds 'like ropes of love golden and strong forever and ever,' but Pearl is clearly attracted to the gorger. She has never even been allowed to walk down the street on her own but she finds ways to meet him at the wire fence that surrounds their encampment. Joe's single-parent dad is no more approving of his unemployed, barely literate son getting involved with a gypsy.

Natasha Langridge writes in a poetic style that still seems totally natural and she is not afraid to give her characters big speeches and soliloquies. Joe, in particular has a long description of Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria that includes acting out a bare-fist fight. Alex Waldmann handles it beautifully. Joe is both brave and sensitive but driven by impulse; Pearl, despite the strictness of her raising, is more questioning and canny. Jade Williams plays her with a nice balance between caution and romantic risk and she has her head screwed on very firmly.

The drama is placed at a key point when the Romanies are about to be evicted for the development of the land for the 2012 Olympics but it concentrates on the two young people. We meet Joe's father (Jim Pope), Pearl's mother (Miranda Foster) and sympathetic Granny (beautifully played by Anna Carteret) only in relation to their children. Although we are given a little of Romany lore, including the burning of Granny's varda and all her belongings as her funeral pyre but Langridge doesn't dig far into the social problems for Romanies or what lies behind Joe's situation - but that is an observation rather than a criticism - in this 90 minute piece the poignancy of this young romance is what holds out attention. The Romany word 'Shraddha' comes from the Sanskrit and it means 'Faith'; it's about faith in yourself and in others -- 'what's in your heart' and that is what these two are trying to express.

Designer Jon Bausor presents us with a caravan interior and a life size tree that can be climbed but the metal fence that divides the worlds of Romany and Gorger is the central and heavily symbolic part of design and Lisa Goldman's production uses it to keep the production flowing though I felt she missed out a little on a poetic sense that seems to go beyond the words in Langridge's script.

Running until 21st November 2009.