The sun never sets on Stoppard's empire
Wednesday 01 March 1995
With much cumbersome trundling from Carl Toms's disappointing designs, the play shifts between India in 1930 and England and India in the mid- 1980s. Felicity Kendal appears as Flora Crewe, a bolshy "flapper" poet, who visits India in 1930 and meets the painter Nirad Das (Art Malik), who executes two portraits of her. The story of their relationship is intercut with scenes from more than 50 years on. Flora's elderly sister, Mrs Swan (Margaret Tyzack), is visited by the painter's son (Paul Bhattacharjee) while, in India, Flora's would-be biographer, an American academic, follows a tepid trail.
It's not just the sympathetic presence of Malik, who played Hari Kumar in The Jewel in the Crown, that makes you feel that the ironies and injustices of Empire have been explored maybe once too often through the device of bringing an Indian man into collision with an independent-minded girl from Blighty. At one point, Indian Ink tries to defuse such criticism. Referring to Forster's A Passage to India, Flora tells Das that she kept wanting to kick Dr Aziz "for not knowing his worth". Das pointedly remarks that perhaps she didn't finish the book. Touch.
But the patronising element in Flora's jaunty pep-talking concern ("You are trying to paint me from my own point of view instead of yours... You deserve the bloody Empire!") gets lost both in Kendal's performance, which is all winningly hearty pertness, and in the plot, where Flora does indeed function as the muse who inspires Das to return to a non-Western style. What she gets from him in return was, as far as I could make out, something she already possessed.
The play badly lacks narrative drive, and Peter Wood's production is powerless to disguise the work's radio origins. This is particularly true in the case of the American, who has to wander around with his edition of Flora's Collected Letters, glossing references in the speeches of others with his learnedly inept footnotes. Language as a forked instrument of colonialism is a theme throughout: in the wearisome comedy of misunderstandings, in the divided nature of Das, the Anglophile nationalist, and in the irony that Macaulay, who imposed English on India, did the cause of nationalism an unwitting favour by giving the different factions a common tongue. But the colonising tendencies of the language of American academe are never pulled into sharp enough relief alongside. And the unforgettable pang that Arcadia finally imparted exists here only in promissory form, suggesting that Indian Ink will leave a far from indelible stain.
n For details see page 26
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry ‘criticises Operation Yewtree in dinner party rant’ calling for tougher laws to deter false sex abuse allegations
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: ‘Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and chairs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’