NEW STAGES: REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
Dusky Warriors

Theatre Royal, Stratford East "Only the forgotten are dead." It is such a quietly spoken aphorism, that it takes a while for its full horror to sink in. The words are spoken in Brighton Pavilion in 1915 by a wheelchair- bound Indian soldier whose leg is about to be amputated and who would rather die in the trenches than stay in England. By this stage, what seemed a palatial hospital for Indian volunteers has turned into a military prison. Initially cheery Uncle Sagar (excellent Sandeep Sharma), whose four compatriot friends have been sent back to the front, has grown bitter. The line powerfully conveys the rebuke inherent in Kulvinder Ghir and Nasser Memarzia's play: not only did the English treat the volunteers as cannon fodder, they also forgot them.

Much of the rest of the play lacks this subtlety. The first encounters between natives and Indians afford some gentle comedy; Ahsen Bhatti's Javed enthuses about London, "They charge you 4p for the toilets - and no bargaining!" But they also give rise to crude caricatures of the English: "You're so different, aren't you?" gawps the Mayor of Brighton. It's the otherness that draws the shy Charan (Ashok Kumar) to "Memsahib" Ellen, a Suffragette, causing locals to fret and barriers to go up. From then on, individual fates lose their shape in the wider darkness.

When the mud-fronted stage reverts to a trench and you are read the real, censored letters of those who were betrayed by King and Empire, it becomes apparent that a strong factual foundationalone is not enough to resurrect feeling.

The Lovers

The Gate

There are times when you want to throttle the central characters of Goldoni's The Lovers, a 90-minute-long tiff. The only moment of reflection comes when jealous Eugenia remarks: "Lovers hurt each other - that's how it is." It's a measure of the strength of Nicola Walker's finely tuned performance - and of the production - that she catches a sincerity of tone at the same time as she articulates a truism. She makes a point, and gets a laugh.

It's a high gag count that director Roxanna Silbert covets most. With comic precocity, the young cast trampolines on to the stage and delivers lines with such throwaway staccato that what is at stake becomes equally disposable. Abigail Dulay, Darren Tunstall, Thomas Fisher and lover David Sant exploit frilly period costumes and shrill mannerisms to the full. "I can't believe I'm doing this," says Eugenia, as she bounces up and down in time to an argument. By the time she arrives at the uneasy equilibrium of "I love you and you love me", there's no vestige of doubt left that playing hard-to-get is all the pair have in common.

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