The fish out of water scenario is well used in films but it takes on a twist with Neil D’Souza’s new stage play, Coming Up, which pitches his protagonist, Alan, into the heart of magical Mumbai.
But Alan isn’t some ex-pat trying his luck in Asia. He’s a British-born Indian returning to his parent’s homeland to wind up his business and endure a reunion with relatives.
The trip turns out to be a voyage of discovery. Coming Up, which opened tonight at Watford Palace Theatre, is evocative, gritty and cathartic.
It’s very loosely inspired by a trip D’Souza took to India. What was striking to him was the phenomenal change in the country. The land of his father was booming with traditional values being swept away on a tidal wave of consumerism and modernity.
The playwright takes the lead as Alan, a businessman whose call centre is based in the city. Although English-born, both his parents came from India and, like a lot of children, he knew next to nothing about their lives.
It’s been more than 30 years since Alan has visited his aunt and his former playmate, and cousin, Daniel, in Mumbai and the meeting is awkward and strained.
His aunt gives him a book which, he is startled to see, was written by his father, Jacob. The men had been estranged. “We didn’t get on. It’s no biggie. We were never on the same page,” remarks Alan.
But, through a series of cleverly-staged flashbacks, imaginatively directed by WPT’s Brigid Larmour, we plunge into Jacob’s colourful memoirs and the magic and mysticism of India.
The more Alan learns, the less he feels part of his ancestry. Daniel mocks his westernised attitudes. “You don’t know who you are!” he rages.
The sights, sounds and smells of India are skilfully brought to life with atmospheric storytelling from a cast of five playing more than 20 characters.
Goldy Notay is equally credible as Alan’s ancient aunt Alice, who berates him for never visiting, and a young ragamuffin, Jacob, whose harsh upbringing includes a childhood tainted by physical abuse, with a few minor roles in-between.
Taxi driver, shamed and angry father, narrator and vicar, Ravin J Ganatra strong, dignified, performance brings gravitas to key roles.
Clara Indrani and Mitesh Soni take on a series of diverse roles while Neil D’Souza glowers and snipes, seething with impatience and resentment, as he is reluctantly forced to confront his past.
The drama is a fascinating insight into the cultural changes experienced by both a family and a continent.
Coming Up runs at Watford Palace Theatre until October 24.
Coming Up evokes the magic and mystery of India as one man reluctantly confronts his past. Gritty, atmospheric and imaginatively staged.