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Review: Mumbai Monologues

Sun 16 Feb 2014 In: Performance View at NDHA

Mumbai Monologues – A Thousand Unsaid Words The final show is Sunday at 4PM - buy tickets here From the moment I began to discuss Agaram Productions involvement in the Auckland Pride Festival Gala ‘Le Jeu de Mechant’, Mumbai Monologues felt like a good bet to me. I was thrilled when they agreed to be part of it. Ahi Karunaharan and co-director Padma Akula were a dream to work with as were their cast and musicians. We had fun. That’s always a great start. After the performance a lovely friend told me he’d cried at the beauty of their work. I suggested alcohol. He denied it. It all sounded great, so I decided to experience it for myself and to go with my family. Having now experienced the full show it’s hard to imagine this not being one of my favourite works in the Auckland PRIDE festival, a festival where quality theatre has always been a real highlight. I love nothing more than a marriage between live music and spoken text as anyone who has followed my own work will testify. I wonder if there is such a person lurking in the shadows somewhere on the planet – it’s been awhile! Music, well chosen, opens the ear and the heart in ways that facilitate both understanding and emotional response and nimbly melds the two into one. The music in Mumbai Monologues is quite simply superb. The sound is instantly culturally evocative but it’s also intensely persuasive in its pace and content. The three piece group of Sayanti (vocals), Karen Plimmer (piano) and Kim Gruebner (violin) is quite exceptional particularly in the way they manage to remain ever in focus but, when appropriate, also get lost on the multiple perimeters of the collective narrative. There are four original compositions in the show, each of which anchors the work and draws us inexorably in. Kim Gruebner’sMumbai Auckland Style,Sayanti and Jennifer D’Souza’sMonsoon LoveandHold On Tightare wonderful but it’s Sayanti and Marie Wills’ beautiful and hauntingJaa Uda Jaathat has stayed with me, returning like a welcome guest, and simply won’t leave my head alone. The production is essentially what the name implies, eight interlinking monologues that traverse the queer experience from a sub-continental point of view. It’s not all ‘Indian’ per se, but therobust cultural links are evident in most of the works. The programme advises us that some of the monologues attest to inspiration of a deeply personal nature while others identify an external influence –Train Therapyby Gyan Prakash,Is This How We Date?By Stephanie Georgopulous,I Don’t Need the Permission of Your Lordships to Loveand the writings of Paul Singh are the muses mentioned. Three monologues are written by Sananda Chattergee, one by Poorna Prakash and a third by the artist performing the piece, Anita Crisinel. All were excellent and, while it seems pernickety to single out a few, four stood head and shoulders above the rest. Adrift,written by Poorna Prakash and performed by Anya Banerjee, Raj Singh as Manjit inMumbai Nights, Aman Bajaj as Faisal inSection 377and Memories, written and performed by Anita Crisinel are stand-out, stand-alone performances of truly top quality texts. Adrift is a delicate piece thatscans life’s options and finds that the more you have the more complex your life becomes. Banerjee is a subtle actor and she draws us into her dilemma with a tantalising elusiveness that is so very appropriate when debating life’s ‘what to do’ quandaries from deep within and, more oftenthan not, while alone. Raj Singh plays Manjit inMumbai Nights.He’s quite brilliant. Blessed with fabulous good looks and the stature of a Greek god – I’m sorry for mixing my cultural metaphors (no I’m not, he’s delicious!) – Singh is the perfect physical vehicle for a metrosexual dissertation on how to win the perfect woman. I’mfairly sure there were womenin the room who were quietly exuding the odd ‘hmmm’ as he advanced his thesis, perhaps even the odd one murmuring to herself’pick me, pick me’into a somewhat sad,half empty glass. Like Banerjee, Singh too had a subtle delicacy and a wryness that kept us guessing just how he fitted in – or didn’t - way past the end of his monologue. The prolific Sananda Chattergee has written the most confronting work of the evening, apowerful testament to friendship and the abject confusion that comes when irrational bigotry is enshrined in ‘law’. EntitledSection 377,it personalises that most insidious of laws, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a code also imposed on 42 other former British colonies at the height of the Raj and which criminalizes anal sex between men and a range of other homosexual acts. The code was introduced by British colonial authorities in 1861 and was used as a model for sodomy lawsin many other British colonies New Zealand being one of them. Section 377 was re-introduced in India in 2013 much to the consternation of almostthe entireinternational community. Aman Bajaj plays Faisal with real passion and more than a frisson of anger as he itemises the issues for his gay ‘friend’ should he decide to come home. It’s touching stuff made even more so by placing this piece where it is in the programme. Chattergee’s twin themes of anger andloss are shared by every member of the audience. My personal favourite, however, was Anita Crisinel’s self-penned – do we still ‘pen’ work –Memories and the character of Emma.Deconstructed, it’s a fabulous piece of writing as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. Crisinel, clearlyan astute observer of both behaviour and rhythm, has excised from her text all the distress she wants us to feel and instead added a subtext that soundlessly screams Emma’s instantly recognisable anguish. Crisinel is a fine actor and totally in control of both her material and her audience as she quietly narrates a story of love, loss, and the tragic vice-hold religion can have on its followers. It’s a deeply moving account of friendship, of coming out, and of the crash-and-burn train wreck that can occur when faith and creed are thrown into the same-sex cauldron. Crisinel cleverly makes us one of those offers we simply can’t refuse and ever so deftly escorts us on a journey to what is anything but enlightenment. She makes magnificent actor choices, is the mistress of understatement and the ‘play against’ and I won’t for a moment deny thatmost of the unbidden tears spattered on our table as she left the stage weremine. The super TAPAC space has the audience sat in the centre with three raised stages positioned on the perimeter and, for Mumbai Monologues, it works an absolute treat. Big ups to Ambrose Hills-Simonsen, too, for some damned fine lighting. All-in-all a wonderful evening, littered with laughter and watered, I imagine,by more tears than just mine. Five stars!- Lexie Matheson is an arts lover and hardworking member of the Auckland Pride Festival Trust Board. Lexie Matheson - 16th February 2014    

Credit: Lexie Matheson

First published: Sunday, 16th February 2014 - 9:11am

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