Love n Stuff
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Actors Rina Fantani and Tony Jayawardena and writer Tanika Gupta make a pretty special combination.
Their roles of Bindi and Mansoor in her musical Wah! Wah! Girls last year were so popular with audiences that Kerry Michael, Stratford East’s artistic director, asked her to write a play especially for these two characters. This is it, with all four of them bringing it together.
The result is a delightful comedy that gives us an Asian couple, one Moslem one Hindu, after thirty-five years of marriage who look back from their current contretemps through the pleasures of problems of marriage.
It is warm-hearted, touching and hilarious, a wonderful vehicle for two particular talents, full of vivacity and rooted in reality. It is set mainly in Heathrow Terminal 3, where Mansoor is waiting for a plane back to India that is repeatedly delayed. Bindi comes there to find him having found a note that he’s left saying “I’ve had enough of this country and am going home,” but that isn’t even half of their story.
In league with Bindi in an attempt to dissuade Mansoor from going are a pair of Olympic athletes who are their lodgers and a teenage lad they have befriended. Akbar is a gay Indian gymnast who stayed on after the Olympics to escape marriage to the fiancée his family has ready for him and Janice is a north country English woman weightlifter.
Sixteen-year-old Baggy is a Sarf-London West-Indian-accented orphan. They have also recruited a fake Scottish policewoman to help them and even brought along Inky and Binky, a pair of sharp-toothed Siamese cats Mansoor dotes on.
We also encounter passengers and airport staff including a posh Englishman who is in the wrong place for his flight to Beijing and getting drunker and a lady spraying samples of perfume. As Bindi and Mansoor remember days of courtship, the days when he was her John Travolta and she his Olivia Newton John, there are cinema peanut and chai wallahs, the guide in a temple full of erotic carving, even the English hippy Ruby who set out to seduce Mansoor.
All of these roles, of course, are also played by Fatania and Jayawardena switching from one to the other mid-conversation but always absolutely clear in which character they are momentarily, even at the movies giving us bursts of Bollywood with music by Niraj Chag and movement by Jason MacPherson.
Love n Stuff is staged, to give even greater intimacy than in the main house, in the theatre’s “studio”, as usual on the actual stage but on this occasion with a rake of seats and a white boarded stage against the white back wall of the theatre on which film of the airport is projected.
Director Kerry Michael has skilfully handled the multiple character playing and mood changes in a production that hides its complexity in an apparent simplicity. Anyone who has seen Fatania perform will know that she can make you laugh whenever she wants to, but here at the same time she suggests great depths of feeling. Jayawardena, who is already chatting with the audience before the performance, just as surely has them under his spell.
Here is beautiful teamwork in a show that needs to be seen much more widely than this short season at Stratford.