Tuesday, 30 January 2018

REVIEW: There or Here at the Park Theatre


It is not every day that theatre with characters of Asian descent, whether South Asia or East Asia, are portrayed in a well-rounded and non-stereotypical way, especially within stories that are often overlooked.

This month at the Park Theatre, a real first-class off West End Theatre, you can see “There or Here”, a play by American writer Jennifer Maisel, directed by Vik Sivalingram and produced by Special Relationship Productions, which strives to find work that features underrepresented demographics and casts and hires talent in line with this.

The play presents characters from around the world, emigrants and travellers, who are honest and searching for their truth and emotions. The stories centre around Robyn (Lucy Fenton) and Ajay (Chris Nayak), a New York couple that decides to go to India to outsource their pregnancy to a local woman after they find out they can’t have a child of their own. 

In the process, between the US and India, friendships are developed between doctors and patients, surrogates and clients and customer support teams and frustrated computer users. It is not important what the words “There” or “Here” represent, but rather that there is great distance between all of the people represented, even between the couple Robyn and Ajay. Indeed, she confides on her illness to a computer technician and is desperately seeking for emotion, while he has frustrated phone sex and doesn’t completely recognise that he is originally Indian himself.

I enjoyed the writing of the separate scenes that demand the actors to multi-role, make us go back and forth in time and space, and show us the different kinds of connections that can exist between human beings. Expressions are given different meanings in different places, and there is some nice humour, for
example when Robyn flirts with her computer technician Raj (played by Manish Gandhi, and who is less than twice her age!).

I particularly enjoyed Manish Gandhi, Rakhee Thakrar and Ursula Mohan’s lively and unique characters and performances. As they multi-roled, they highlighted unique cultural details and created a lot of humour. 

The energy between the scenes is intensified by director Svialingam, the flexible set design by Vicky Sweatman and the sound by Nicola Chang, with translations used to define locations and the years in which scenes take place. As the play ends, we are shown the word HOPE on the screen. As this coincides with the two younger actresses looking at each other after years of their personal struggles, establishing a connection that had been missing all this time in a play in which so much of the communicating is done remotely, I thought the word was maybe too much.

I have to point out that some of the American accents were not strong enough, and I struggled to even understand where things were taking place in the first few minutes of the show. Compared with some other British actors’ excellent accent work, this was disappointing and distracting at times. 

That being said, this show has made me more curious about the stories that Special Relationship Productions are planning on telling next, especially if they are told in complex ways and highlighting what connects us all over the world.

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★
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