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Posts Tagged ‘Madani Younis’

This new play has an epic sweep, crossing three continents and more than sixty years to tell the story of a young Indian couple’s journey via Kenya to the UK through the changes in all three countries. I was enthralled.

It starts in Ahmedabad in 1954 as teenager Jyoti chooses between five suitors, deciding on Kenyan Asian twenty-something Rasik. It’s a year before she joins him in Kenya to begin their life together, where they become farmers and befriend and employ David, but it isn’t long before they leave the country amid the turmoil of the Mau Mau uprising. Their destination is the UK and there we see them in the late 60’s and 70’s making a life for themselves, Rasik training as a surveyor and Jyoti becoming a union activist fighting exploitation of Asian women, both on the receiving end of racist abuse, bringing up two girls and buying a home. The play ends as we flash forward to the present day, looking back at their adventure, new facts revealed.

It’s beautifully written, very mature and assured for a young playwright, particularly well structured. Madani Younis’ production is set on a square stage with the audience facing each other on two sides and screens on the other two. With very few props, locations are conjured up by what covers the floor, with the impressionistic projections adding atmosphere. The simplicity of the design allows the story to shine unencumbered, both the personal tale of the couple and the political and societal changes in all three countries.

Anjana Vasan is excellent as the assertive, feisty and independent Jyoti, as is Shubham Saraf as the loving but much put upon Rasik. In Kenya, Martins Imhangbe creates an imposing presence as David and in the UK, daughter Sonal is played with cheeky youthfulness, very much her mother’s daughter, by Aysha Kala, who doubles up as Jyoti’s niece back in India. When we move to the present day, Nika Aalia and Selva Rasalingham take over as the older Joyti and Rasik. A fine ensemble.

A candidate for the year’s best new play, I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from playwright Vinay Patel.

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Thirty years on from its London premiere at the National (the first play by a black woman there, in 1988!) this comes over as a vital play for our time, exploring the immigrant experience of the generation that came here and the one that followed, born here.

Enid is part of the Windrush generation, her daughters Del, the elder rebellious one, and Viv, a good girl, both born here. Enid’s a single mum, having left her abusive husband. She holds down two jobs in order to keep her family, her attitudes are ‘old school’, thankful and respectful. ‘Uncle’ Brod, who isn’t, pops in regularly. They visit an ‘obeah’ woman Mai, a Caribbean healer who reads palms & cards and gives baths & potions. Enid is convinced, Del a disbeliever and Viv interested but uncommitted. When Enid’s mum dies, she’s full of guilt and yearns to go home. Del gets pregnant and leaves home, lodging with Mai, who passes on her knowledge and skills to her. Viv want to take a gap year to discover her roots in the Caribbean. Brod just wants another bottle of rum.

The older generation are torn between their adopted home and their homeland, deeply hurt by the racism they’ve encountered, hanging on to their heritage and culture. The next generation feel differently, Del seeing no connection with her heritage and Viv wanting to explore it. The play also examines the relationships between Enid and her daughters and between the sisters. Some things are unexplained – why Del goes to Mai’s, how Viv gets to Uni after walking out of her first exam and what exactly is Brod’s relationship with Enid. The older characters are heavily accented and you do have to work at taking it all in. That said, I found it an enthralling play, often very funny and often deeply moving.

Sarah Niles is wonderful as a very dignified Enid, who’s learnt how to cope alone. Seraphina Beh brings an unpredictability and brittleness to angry, passionate Del and Nichole Cherrie a caring loyalty to her younger sister Viv. Adjoa Andoh has great presence as Mai, who’s got her own story as well as a place in theirs. Wil Johnson is more than a comic character, but he does excel at the very physical comedy of larger-than-life Brod.

Nine Night, recently at the Dorfman, also written by a black woman, covered similar ground, and I suspect owes a debt to this earlier play. At both productions, there were many of shared heritage to whom it seemed to mean more than it did to me, but Madani Younis’ production is still as fine an evening of drama as you could wish for. Not to be missed.

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I didn’t book for this play as I don’t like boxing. Fortunately, I realised soon enough that it was about much more than boxing. Inspired by the life of black American boxer Jack Johnson in the early 20th century, it’s a gripping, intense drama with five stunning performances in a production that oozes authenticity.

Our fictional boxer Jay is black heavyweight world champion at a time of segregation. He tours the US with his trainer Wynton and white boxing promoter Max, fighting other back boxers, one of which – Fish – becomes his sparring partner. Max sets up the unthinkable – a match with the white world heavyweight champion – though he has to give away virtually all the prize money, whatever the outcome. Jay’s big sister Nina turns up and we learn the origin of his motivation and the frightening potential consequences of the battle. Jay could be about to dramatically change society, but he’s also putting many lives at risk.

This is played out in a boxing ring (without ropes) without a single blow landed but with an intensity that has you on the edge of your seat throughout. Madani Younis’ direction is masterly, with movement that is both elegant and dramatic. James Whiteside’s lighting adding much to the atmosphere. Nicholas Pinnock is extraordinary as Jay, physically imposingly with genuine charisma, with Gershwyn Eustache Jnr brilliant as the younger boxer Fish, like a more naive younger version of Jay. Clint Dyer is wonderful as the loyal, supportive trainer and Ewan Stewart is excellent as Max, whose motivation is more ambiguous. We don’t see Nina for some time, but she becomes pivotal to the story and Frances Ashman’s deeply moving performance is simply superb.

Everything about this evening is crafted to perfection. It’s a play that will certainly be in the year’s ‘Best Of’ lists and one you absolutely must catch. Let’s hope it can be seen by more people by extension, transfer or filming, but don’t wait for that – if there are tickets left, grab them now!

 

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