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Posts Tagged ‘Thusitha Jayasundera’

Even though its four months before Rufus Norris takes the helm at the NT, this may well be a sign of things to come. Though playwright David Hare has had 17 plays at the NT, everything else about this production seems to be saying ‘new broom’. It’s also the best in-house production in the Olivier since Norris’ Amen Corner last year.

Hare has adapted the reportage of Katherine Boo, who spent three years regularly visiting the shanty town of Annawadi at Mumbai airport and published their story as non-fiction in the book of the same name. This mostly Muslim community is screened from visitors, business people and the Indian middle-class by barriers, on some of which posters advertise ‘Beautiful Forevers’, whatever that is / they are. The play centres on three strong women, who between them represent life in these slums. Zehrunisa Husain’s family have become relatively wealthy by collecting rubbish, thanks to son Abdul, the best sorter, and his friend Sunil, the best collector. Asha is the local fixer – the ‘go to’ woman who, for money, can make things happen. Fatima Shaikh, who has lost one leg, sells her body in the afternoons to keep her family. These are the people you don’t see if you visit India. The government tries hard to hide or remove them. The police and other officials exploit them. Upwardly mobile Indians, benefitting from globalisation, ignore them, a bi-product and consequence of this globalisation.

This community is a microcosm of a society with unwritten rules and norms. There is much conflict between them as they strive to better themselves and better their peers. The conflict between The Husain’s and Fatima reaches a new level when Fatima sets herself alight and blames them, but she has gone too far and, with health standards as they are, does not survive. Three Husain’s end up accused and we’re then propelled into the world of hospital cover-ups, police corruption and judicial incompetence. At the same time, Sunil crosses the line from collection to theft, a world occupied by another group of very violent men, yet another society within a society.

There’s a great epic sweep to the story and Norris’ staging, with design by Katrina Lindsay, makes great use of the Olivier stage and its resources. Occasionally, scene changes slow down a well-paced production, but the overall impact is captivating. It’s very inventively done, with the rubbish centre stage and brilliant recreation of the planes landing. Sunil’s climbs and walks over the metal gantry took my breath away more than once. When Time Out reviewed Norris’ Death & the King’s Horseman on the same stage five years back, they said ‘if you’re a black actor and you’re not in this, get a new agent’. One could say something similar about this, a fine ensemble of 23 British Asian actors. The three matriarchs – Meera Syal, Stephanie Street & Thusitha Jayasundera – are all excellent, but its Hiran Abeysekera as Sunil and Shane Zaza as Abdul who steal your heart with two natural and very moving characterisations.

The play makes you think a lot about the real consequences of escalating economic change, particularly in the so-called BRIC countries, but it does so by telling the true story of real people unwittingly caught up in it. This is great theatre and hopefully an example of what’s to come at the NT.

 

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