Coming Up is billed as ‘one man’s odyssey in search of his father and himself.’ And it certainly is an epic tale, we travel back and forth between 1930s Bangalore and present day Mumbai with breathless speed. We meet a myriad of characters and are swept up into a world that changes around us in sometimes flashbulb moments and draws us into Neil D’Souza’s lovingly crafted story.
The premise is simple enough, Alan (Neil D’Souza) is middle-aged and disillusioned, returning to Mumbai on business he visits his Aunt (Clara Indrani) and cousin (Mitesh Soni) after an uncomfortably long absence. We quickly learn that there are family secrets and shames that have never been reconciled, and that in spite of appearing to be a successful businessman, Alan is not quite the man he claims. Reluctantly he turns to his father’s notebook and uncovers truths that might go some way to explaining their fractured relationship. We are introduced to his father both young and old (Ravin J. Ganatra and Goldy Notay). So begins a multi-layered story that is filmic in its scope and ambition. There are hints of recent plays, Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Chimerica in this play, that hybrid feel of good old fashioned storytelling with some very modern momentum.
The cast of five are more than up for it, showing impressive talent and versatility. They each take on a variety of roles, sometimes finger click fast, and they do so with an obvious joy and passion. One minute we’re in Bangalore, then an airport, then a Mumbai kitchen, it could be confusing but Brigid Larmour’s inventive and creative direction ensures that we know exactly where we are at all times and that props and costumes are used just enough to flavour a scene without intruding. There’s movement, magic realism, split scenes and all sorts going on in the play – it’s a melting pot, where the form often echoes the themes. In the wrong hands could have been a hot mess, but for me, it felt both authentic and enticing.
A special mention to the set designer, Rebecca Brower, lighting designer Prema Mehta and sound designer Arun Ghosh who conjure an almost immersive experience for the audience. It’s a sensory delight, and there are some very neat tricks that help to place the scenes and visually evoke India in all its beauty and chaos.
Coming Up doesn’t quite take you on the journey you might expect, not all the jokes land and not everything is neatly wrapped up. But as this isn’t a standard redemption tale maybe it doesn’t need to conclude in an expected way. The ambiguous ending leaves space for us to wonder how or if this might all be resolved, but maybe that’s the point. Alan, like India is at a point in his life where it could either way. Coming Up is a play full of heart for all audiences. This is a joyful, theatrical love letter to a country that both divides and unites its people.
Review by Roz Wyllie
By Neil D’Souza
After more than 30 years, Alan is returning to Mumbai on business. He finds the bustling city is moving on and up. Between meetings and expense account dinners, he visits the Auntie and Cousin he used to spend his holidays with, and makes an unexpected discovery about his late Father.
As truths are uncovered one by one, will Alan be forced to come to terms with a way of life he turned his back on? Will he reconnect with the cousin he loved as a brother? A Father he thought he knew, and the tiger that haunted his dreams?
Coming Up is an evocative, playful and magical drama about broken family ties, and the need for connection.
Directed by Artistic Director Brigid Larmour, with Movement Direction from Shona Morris (the team behind Love Me Do and Jefferson’s Garden).
Suitable for ages 12+
Watford Palace Theatre
20 Clarendon Road, Watford, WD17 1JZ