Free Outgoing

Anupama Chandrasekhar
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Production photo

Where Arthur Miller set his story of sexual shame The Crucible 300 years ago, Free Outgoing by Indian-based Anupama Chandrasekhar takes place during the summer just gone.

It would be fair to say that if the story had been set in Chingford rather than Chennai, it could not have happened in the last fifty years.

Unusually, the protagonist is a lacuna, never seen, though we are tantalised with the chance of a glimpse on more than one occasion. Deepa is a 15 year old schoolgirl who comes top of the class and hopes to become a doctor.

In her stead, the plot is led by Lolita Chakrabarti playing Malini, a widowed mother of two teenagers who has made the most of life, part accountant/part alchemist - or at least vendor of a miracle cleaner.

She bullies her son Sharan, played by original History Boy Sacha Dawan, but dotes on her daughter Deepa. When Shelley King as the school principal turns up, she refuses to believe bad news about the girl on whom she has showered so much love and goes into denial.

How could her clever daughter be "a slut" who has enjoyed sex with an older boy on school premises? Despite her ranting though, there is concrete evidence since the boy filmed her stripping on his cellphone.

In Essex today, this would be common, in India, once the MMS film clip has made it on to the Web, it shocks a nation. Poor Malini is literally besieged by a mob, not to mention the country's media.

Anupama Chandrasekhar manages to follow this story through with grim conviction. We see a mother broken down as she begins to take in not only what her daughter has done but the consequences.

A stream of visitors can do nothing to help as the story and the MMS spreads virally, like a measles epidemic. The boy's family leave the country but when Malini enlists help from a creepy bachelor, Raj Gathak's Ramesh, a combination of his timidity and the chance that he might prostitute the girl closes the last route of escape. A neighbour is little help - more concerned about her own family and the colony in which they live.

The final scene featuring a tearful mother and a super-sexy TV reporter stylishly played by Manjinder Virk shows up the ambiguity of a country's morals and the way in which the media controls news and life across the world today.

Indhu Rubasingham marshals her cast perfectly in a 75 minute drama that grips from start to finish - highly recommended.

Suman Bhuchar reviewed the 2008 revival in the Theatre Downstairs

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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