A little more suspension of disbelief than usual is required to appreciate the underlying themes that Glass Roots tries to bring to the audience’s attention. Would Sadjit (Kal Sabir) and Thila (Natalie Perera) really have bothered to open their Indian restaurant for the evening shift when there is a violent demonstration going on that passes right by their premises? One thinks back to the riots of August 2011 in various urban areas across England, where a number of vehicles, homes and shops were destroyed, usually by way of arson.
As Sadjit continues to sit, ignoring the restaurant phone ringing, and then the wife, busy in the kitchen, telling him the phone is ringing, I wondered if this was the start of something resembling a comedy. I thought of Rowan Atkinson in a sketch, widely available to view online, called ‘Drunk English in Indian Restaurant’, except here, Sadjit isn’t quite so welcoming and unflappable, and Diesel (Mitchell Fisher) and Spaceman (Sam Rix) aren’t inebriated. The night, by anyone’s standards, is yet young, if it has started at all. This being theatre, Diesel’s demand for beer and ‘Chicken Maryland’ is really a cry for something that cannot be physically consumed – attention, perhaps, or adulation; an intangible hunger that was never going to be satisfied by a hot meal.
The setting isn’t the most appropriate one for the sort of conversation that Rupert (Ben Warwick) likes to indulge in. For this is a barrister that seeks clarity in judgement in more ways than one, leaving Celia (Victoria Broom), one of those big-hearted and pleasantly warm characters, justifiably exasperated at what she perceives to be a lack of tact. But they’re on a date, and rather than finding common ground, Rupert, maybe unintentionally, asserts his views in a manner that presumes that Celia (and, come to think of it, the audience) is interested in such opinions. Some, however, are so abstract I couldn’t possibly recall them even if I tried.
There’s no gain without pain, and on that basis, the level of thuggery is a tad disappointing. Perhaps I have too much of a sinister mind (or had Shakespeare plays with swords and potions in my subconscious thinking), but chucking cutlery across the restaurant floor, for example, is hardly the stuff of violent conduct. Any injuries sustained by anyone are entirely superficial: no ambulance is called for. I’m waiting and waiting for things to really kick off, and they never did. For all those verbal threats and posturing, all it took was a sort of ‘Take the money and go!’ command from Thila for the duo to go off and be obnoxious elsewhere. That there was only a relatively small amount of cash is entirely credible, given the number of debit and credit card transactions these days, a point lost on the bullies.
Some poetry, the result of Sadjit’s creativity, tries to crowbar its way in, partly through Celia’s insistence that it be heard. It is, to be fair, lovely, but it is difficult to appreciate it in the context of everything else going on. The play raises pertinent questions as to what the most appropriate response would be in a situation that is difficult to handle. There don’t seem to be any winners at all by the end, however, and there’s a sense that this was merely a sequence of events that happened with little consequence or lessons learned for the future.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Glass Roots is about bullying: what happens when you are bullied and are powerless to fight back? Can you survive with your psychology intact or is the damage permanent? This is the terrible ordeal faced by Sadjit and Thila, owners of a popular Indian restaurant in east London when they are terrorised in their own place of work by racist thugs. Glass Roots addresses the violent clash of ignorance, racism, class and jealousy and wonders at the outcome; will the perpetrators get what they want and will the victims survive with a renewed purpose?
February 28th to March 24th