Khandan (Family)

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Sudha Bhuchar (Jeeto) and Rez Kempton (Pal) Credit: Robert Day
Preeya Kalidas (Reema) Credit: Robert Day
Lauren Crace (Liz) and Sudha Bhuchar (Jeeto) Credit: Robert Day

For a brief period of five years ago, one could genuinely have claimed that Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was the best-known playwright in the United Kingdom. The reason was that her play Bezhti (Dishonour) incensed the Sikh community to the extent that it literally caused riots at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Khandan (Family), which has just finished a short run at the Rep prior to its Royal Court transfer, has had a less demonstrative response, which is very good news for all concerned, with the possible exception of the publicist.

It is an Anglo-Indian soap opera with themes that have much in common with Ayub Khan Dan's East is East.

The audience sits around a wide thrust representing the kitchen of a five-bedroom house somewhere in the Birmingham area.

Themes repeat in this family with its strong, matriarchal women and the drunken losers that they marry.

Ruling with a rod of iron is Sudha Buchar's Jeeto, recently widowed and desperate to do right, based on the values propagated in the old country.

Her son Pal, played by Raz Kempton, is a bit of an oddity of the kind that is popular in such creations.

He loves Liz, the girl whom he met at a school dance and married across racial boundaries. Lauren Crace's character is more Indian than hubby and theoretically wants the same thing as her mother-in-law, a baby.

For reasons that are never really clear, Pal does not and is more interested in getting rich quick.

That becomes a bone of contention with his mother after the ambitious wannabe entrepreneur decides to sell the family shop to fund a nursing home project.

The Indian side of the family has its own troubles, as the uncle minding the estate is penniless while his son has gone to the bad deserting his wife, preferring drink and drugs to the alluring charms of Preeya Kalidas playing Reema.

For her husband's sins rather than our own, the bright, ambitious teacher is billeted on the English in-laws with disastrous consequences.

Add in a dull brother-in-law and flighty, comic sister and you have a predictable family pot boiler with an Indian dimension.

This concoction is then brewed up towards moments of explosive revelation as surely as the incessant chai served up to all and sundry.

Despite the efforts of director Roxana Silbert and the cast, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s formulaic plotting in this light comedy which strives to be something more is not really satisfying and doesn't ever reach beneath the surface of any of the characters.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher