A Perfect Ganesh

Terrence McNally
Phizzical Productions
ArtsDepot
(2008)

A Perfect Ganesh, originally performed over a decade ago at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, has been given a slight Bollywood make-over by upcoming director, Samir Bhamra, in order to make it connect to a contemporary Asian audience more used to seeing movies. However, the tale is more A Passage to India. Margaret Civil (Elizabeth Graham) and Katherine Brynne (Rebecca Tremain) are two suburban matrons from Guildford, who eschew their traditional holiday to the Caribbean and decide to go to India for spiritual succour.

Whilst, Margaret wants to "see India from a comfortable seat, somewhat at a distance," her companion is more enthusiastic. Both are strong performers: Graham is straight laced coping stoically with her inner grief while, Tremain is more "dippy hippy", eager to embrace any new experience.

Their tour guide is none other than the elephant-headed God, Ganesh, remover of obstacles, who appears either as himself or in various guises, nudging the women onto the road to self-discovery and getting them to confront their own guilt about their past. Both have lost sons; suffer from homophobia and latent racism,and are living meaningless comfortable suburban lives.

Tony Hasnath is a stately ubiquitous God, moving elegantly along the stage and is wonderful in the dual role of a Japanese husband and wife who encounters the two women separately on their first night at a five star hotel in Bombay, and warns them: "Be careful of India. Be very careful here. If you're not, you may find yourself here."

It's not an easy play, although it has a lot of dry humour and the tale follows a linear style as the two women journey through the tourist India.

On one level, A Perfect Ganesh is about the superficial encounter between tourists and locals, and on the other, it's deeply spiritual as Ganesh presents the women with hurdles -- mostly in the shape of MAN (Jas Binag) who plays over 20 different characters -- in order to get them to face up to their hidden tragedies.

The title of the show comes from Katherine's penchant for purchasing souvenir Ganeshes to take back home and it is ironic that she doesn't realize the moment when she was holding the real thing in her arms.

Finally, the women do find themselves and what sustains them is their friendship with each other which gets stronger, although many of their shortcomings remain.

Tues 25 - Sat 29 March, Watermans; Thurs 3 - Sat 5 April, Peepul Centre, Leicester; Fri 11 - Sun 13 April, The Drum, Birmingham

Suman Bhuchar