There's Something About Simmy
Theatre Royal, Stratford East
Simmy is a beautiful Punjabi girl and she is being married to Raj, a Punjabi boy, in the traditional way, dressed in their wedding finery beneath a huge romantic Punjabi moon. But . no sooner is the wedding over than she is whisked away, with the husband she had never before met, to his family home - in Gravesend, Kent. Once there, he scarpers and her new mother-in-law locks her in, keeps her passport, monitors her telephone conversations and stops her writing home.
This could be another tragic story about an arranged marriage going wrong but it isn't: like Rifco Arts previous crowd-pleaser The Deranged Marriage, it is an Indian comedy with a touch of Bollywood. Much of the fun comes from the family's nosey neighbours, finding a pretext to visit or, binoculars ready, at the window of their houses which we can see across the road behind designer Gary McCann's skeletal house. Deni Francis, Mina Maisuria and Mija Ojla clearly enjoy playing these local 'aunties' from hell. They may verge on caricature but the audience loved them. Punjabi speakers loved a running gag, what seemed like a noisy expletive, that missed me but there are surtitles in English to translate all the other frequent Punjabi and occasional Urdu in the dialogue (though no help for those who don't understand the English).
It isn't the first time Raj has disappeared and it soon becomes clear that he is a tearaway petty criminal. The crime rate has visibly dropped since he took off and, as Simmy says, the police know him better than she does; but he is still the apple of his mother Gurbaksh's eye. Harvey Virdi makes her totally believable: going out to work to support her family, oblivious to the way she had neglected her other children, frantic to keep up appearances. We get the determination of someone who has had to cope and the desperation of someone who can't bear to see her plans failing. Goldy Notay plays Mindy, the daughter who has escaped the nest, though she and husband Bobby (the excellent Amarjit Bassan) always seem to be there, and Ernest Ignatius is tele-addict grandpa Bauji, oblivious to the rest of his close-knit household.
Unexpectedly, elder son Harry comes home from university - he has given up his Indian name and is totally British. Simmy may be shocked at his bare-chested affront to Punjabi proprieties but he gives her support and understanding. He teaches her English and helps her understand English life, while she make him begin to appreciate his ancestral culture and learn Punjabi. Rik Makarem and Vineeta Rishi play this pair delightfully and subtly show the growing closeness between them.
Next door neighbour Saleema (Karen Fisher-Pollard), an English girl in Asian dress, whose Indian husband seems also to have taken off leaving her with the baby, befriends Simmy over the washing line. She offers a different another instance of cultural adaptation, though we get no inkling of why she continues her adopted style. Young Harry may be studying to be a psychotherapist but this is not a play that delves into psychology. Gurbaksh may be determined that her Raj will return - and indeed he does, but grandpa has discovered that perfect match of horoscopes on which the perfect match she planned was based were using the wrong horoscope. Can disaster be averted?
Of course, this is a comedy. One that presents a family in whose behaviour audiences may often see an echo of their own homes. At emotional highspots director/writer Kumar lifts temperature joyously with colourful Bollywood-style song and dance routines, romantic stars and Diwali candlelight, even fireworks! Or rather, one firework: that particular moment could do with more and this play could raise its game a little too if it could be given a little more serious bite, be a little less superficial without losing its humour. That's not to say it isn't very enjoyable. It is designed to be a fun night out and it succeeds. Punjabi speakers in the audience especially seemed to love it.
Until 29th September then touring
Ray Brown reviewed this production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Reviewer: Howard Loxton