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A Fine Balance

Rohinton Mistry, adapted by Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon -Smith
Hampstead Theatre
(2007)

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This is a powerful production, finely balanced between drama and story telling.

The stage is effectively utilised to provide the different locations, including the underbelly of Indian life where cheap labour struggles for rudimentary existence. The backdrop is dominated by a gigantic portrait of Mrs. Indira Gandhi watching over stage and auditorium.

A strong flavour is conveyed of what life was like for some in India in the mid-seventies, the time of the infamous State of Emergency imposed by the Gandhi government. It is a country where a beggar's resourcefulness would have placed them in the winning position had they been on the TV show The Apprentice.

The play is rich with information which crystallizes and touches our social and moral consciousness as grinding poverty is thickened with a dose of bureaucratic tyranny shackled with corruption. Our main protagonist is a young Parsi widow, Dina Dalal (Sudha Bhuchar), a woman struggling to maintain her dignity, economic independence and secure her tiny flat from repossession by a ruthless landlord.

Apart from keeping Maneck, a young student boarder (Divian Ladwa), Dina recruits two tailors, Ishvar (Sagar Arya) and Om (Amit Sharma) from the slums to produce garments that she sells to a wealthy retailer. The landlord, keen to repossess the flat, keeps a watchful eye for his chance.

The protection comes not from the legislators but from the Beggermaster (Taylan Halici), who is a cross between Dickens' Fagan and a Godfather to the beggars. There is more empathy in him than in Dina's wealthy brother.

Then there is the monkeyman, whose sole possession is a monkey he loved, and when that died we see the replacement of the monkey by a young child, who can be tied to a pole, lifted and swung to entertain passers-by. The horrendous notion of child abuse was effectively staged without resorting to sentimentality.

The play is the bare bones of Rohinton Mistry's book, yet it conveys superbly the gist of social and economic misery and the personal hardship. The use of Hindi language in parts adds to the unfolding reality. In this production, Kristine Landon-Smith and her team, including most notably Natasha Chivers and Mike Furness, in charge of the lighting and sound respectively, have admirably succeeded in conveying the texture of abject poverty and its varied effect on individuals subjected to it.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson