Rafta Rafta

Ayub Khan Din, based on All In Good Time by Bill Naughton
Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Local writer Bill Naughton's comedy All In Good Time became The Family Way for the 1966 film starring John Mills and his daughter Hayley and has more recently been overhauled by East Is East writer Ayub Khan Din as Rafta Rafta, set in a modern British Asian family. Director Iqbal Khan returns to the Octagon to revive the play first seen at the National Theatre in 2007.

The plot follows Naughton's play reasonably faithfully, and some aspects of it are far more convincing in a traditionalist Asian family than they perhaps would be in a white English family in the twenty-first century. The play begins during the celebrations following Atul and Vina's wedding back at the house of Atul's parents, Eeshwar and Lopa Dutt, where the young couple is to live until they can find a place of their own. However the pressure of living in a cramped house with a large family and thin walls gets to Atul, and when the virginal bride and groom are still just that six weeks after their wedding, cracks appear in the perfect romance and the family is starting to notice that something is wrong.

Designer Lis Evans has created several cramped rooms on slightly different levels that very cleverly allow the audience to visualise a whole house, and the audience surrounds the whole space looking down on the action over barriers like a bearpit. This creates a much more intense and intimate environment than the National Theatre could achieve when it brought this play to The Lowry a couple of years ago, and it is certainly to the play's benefit.

There are some excellent performances from this ten-strong cast, but the central character of the play is undoubtedly Atul's father Eeshwar, and Simon Nagra—who played the tiny part of Mr Patel in the Octagon's last play Comedians—gives a real tour-de-force performance as this selfish, competitive show-off who ultimately becomes something of a tragic character. Opposite him, Harvey Virdi is equally strong as his wife who does her best to keep him in order and stop him from embarrassing himself too much. On the other side of the family, Rani Moorthy is wonderful as Vina's rather strait-laced mother Lata with a lovely, tender performance from Kaleem Janjua as her husband Laxman.

As the happy couple, Darren Kuppan puts across the insecurity and short temper of Atul very well, whereas Bhavna Limbachia as Vina, making her professional stage debut, occasionally shows her inexperience with her delivery of the dialogue (especially the dialogue that is lost when she talks over the laughs) but is fine for most of the time.

There are occasionally serious moments where the pace is a touch slow, but generally Khan's direction is spot on and makes the very most of the laughs in the script without sacrificing the more tender moments. In fact this is an extremely funny play that had the whole audience rocking with laughter on press night, and, while I suspect there are some specifically British Asian references that I missed, there is plenty to amuse anyone here, whatever their background, but the revelation in the final moments leaves everyone with a tear in the eye.

This wonderful production is extremely funny with some stunningly good performances but still has a real tender heart to it and is highly recommended.

Running until 5th June, 2010

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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