A hugely enjoyable comedic drama, riffing on a voyage and return plot, from US writer Maisel, making its debut on the London stage. Young married couple Robyn (Lucy Fenton) and Ajay (Chris Nayak) are living the American dream, full of optimism and entitlement when life throws them a curve ball.
A desperate Robyn defies the advice of her Jewish mum, Ellen (Ursula Mohan), and tries to beat the odds, bringing the couple into contact with a clinic in India. Ajay is forced to confront the culture that his parents rejected for their new-born son when they started a new life in the US.
The leads are self-obsessed and neurotic, but combine this with humour and self-deprecation, and Fenton brings a wistful vulnerability to wannabe mum Robyn. Increasingly isolated from each other, the couple reach out to and try and bond with anonymous strangers, workers in call centres, mostly played by Rakhee Thakrar, in a series of rounded and often hilarious vignettes. The novice sex-chat line worker, complete with loose-leaf instruction manual, was wickedly funny. Along the way, the author casually establishes that India has become the back office of the first world. They travel to India and meet the beautiful and generous spirit that is surrogate mum Neera (Thakrar again), and her less than convinced husband Rajit (Manish Gandhi). Robyn innocent and arrogant becomes fascinated with the world that her husband has rejected.
The two-act show is pacey, very funny and well executed. The piece is sentimental and optimistic, but well-constructed, with a darkly tragic twist. The talented cast never waver in their concentration and deliver a superb slice of unselfconscious feel-good theatre. The experience is like watching a good quality rom-com, albeit one with a sense of danger and risk. It has none of the mannered and self-conscious hand-wringing so often seen in what feels like a pre-apocalyptic era and is the better for it. It is written to be entertaining; with a classic story that packs a decent cathartic punch; and it delivers on that contract. The standard of performance is high from an experienced and capable cast. Mohan gives a scene-stealing performance as the well-meaning mum. Fenton is excellent as the likeable everywoman Robyn; Nayak is confused and lost as husband Ajay, facing the uncomfortable truths that underlie his pampered existence, and haunted by a heritage that he has never known.
There is impressive attention to detail in this slick production, with sound, lights and design all artfully woven in, back projections and set giving the play a filmic quality, as the couple set out on their quest. Credit must be given to the whole backstage crew. The play delivers an interesting and topical take on the contemporary Asian diaspora. And, in not preaching, makes a stronger point than many of its contemporaries.
Review by Laura Thomas
The producers of the 2013 hit Yellow Face (Park Theatre/ National Theatre transfer) are opening the Park90 2018 season with There or Here: a dramatic comedy about relationships, race, belonging and… outsourcing.
Jennifer Maisel’s poignant comedy follows the journey of Robyn and Ajay; when illness prevents them from having a child of their own, they return to India – the country of Ajay’s birth – to outsource their pregnancy. As they come together to face this next step in their lives, their increasing inability to be each other’s comfort drives them to seek solace from strangers on the other end of their phone lines in the unlikeliest of places – call centres, drive thrus and even sex lines…
Through sharp writing and witty observation, There or Here explores what happens in this changing world when couples forego face-to-face communication in favour of the virtual.
The cast includes: Lucy Fenton, Manish Gandhi, Ursula Mohan, Chris Nayak and Rakhee Thakrar.
Special Relationship Productions in association with Anita Creed Productions and Park Theatre presents the UK Premiere of
There or Here
By Jennifer Maisel
Directed by Vik Sivalingam
Booking 23 Jan – 17 Feb 2018