Are Indian families really this conservative? If Ayub Khan-Din’s play Rafta Rafta, now closed at the National, is to be believed, the pre-feminist mentality lives on with the UK’s largest minority. Based on Bill Naughton’s All in Good Time, Khan-Din uses a healthy dose of humour to show two working class Asian families’ responses to a sexless marriage, exposing generational and intra-familial conflicts.
Utilising Bollywood’s writing conventions, Khan-Din’s dialogue avoids the language one would expect with this type of play: profanity is non-existent, and with one exception (played by Simon Nagra’s), the sexual talk so necessary to solving the young couple’s problems emerges through discretionary whispers and evasive terminology: the direct words are never there, just as frustrated Atul (Ronny Jhutti) is incapable of maintaining a dialogue or open relationship with his father, the gregarious Eeshwar (Harish Patel).
As the older generation (all first generation immigrants) deals with foreign words, the younger must reconcile their parents’ culture with modern British surroundings and lifestyles. Perhaps it is most telling that the crudest character (Nagra’s Jivaj) is intermarried, yet his white British wife is far more observant of Indian customs than he of Asian descent.
Also as with Bollywood, music plays a role in the play, with songs by Niraj Chag used sparsely but to great effect. Tim Hatley’s eye-popping house set is full of colour and character, but was it necessary reveal the interior with a turntable effect when we never see the exterior after the first three minutes?
While successfully directed by Nicholas Hytner (artistic director for the National) himself, a touch up session with vocal coach Kate Godfrey between runs would have been beneficial as accents frequently slipped, especially Meerya Syal’s as Lopa, the wisecracking mother who spends her non-speaking time in the matriarchal position of cleaning up after the rest of the cast.
Rafta Rafta, when combined with the season’s earlier run of The Emperor Jones, takes a polar approach to storytelling from the latter, but is no less effective in helping the National reach out to ethnic Britain.
Where: National Theatre/Littleton
Concessions: Day seats + Usual Suspects for £10, SRO when sold out for £5
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £22.00 (Full price dress circle). Major Bollywood fans and members of the community may find additional value in the piece and should add £5.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ found Rafta Rafta an entertaining look at Anglo-Indian culture and a great way to spend a matinee. While this is by no means a brilliant, life-changing production, it’s a fun and well constructed play - far more than the last Indian focused piece he saw (the OLC of Bombay Dreams) - and it deserves a good life in regional and amateur theatre.