Behna: Welcome to the Dollis Hill house
Friday 13 May 2011
I am sitting in the kitchen at a friend's house in London and I am feeling a little uncomfortable. A woman I have never met before is loudly accusing her sister of flirting with her husband and a heated exchange ensues. Part of me wants to sneak away and leave them to sort things out in private, but this isn't a normal situation. The women are actors and they are performing a play. I stay put and continue to watch the drama unfold, along with about 20 other people perched on stools and benches in the open-plan basement kitchen.
Behna (Sisters) by Sonia Likhari, a co-production by Kali Theatre Company and Birmingham Rep with a cast of five, is currently being performed in the kitchen of a rented house in Dollis Hill.
To introduce the play to a wider audience Artistic Director Janet Steel also put out a request for volunteers elsewhere in London willing to stage Behna in their own homes on a Saturday night.
Perhaps not surprisingly given the current enthusiasm for theatre in more unusual locations they were inundated with offers and could have filled their three slots many times over. Hosts pay £200, usually recouped by donations from the friends and family they invite along.
The hour-and-a-half performance begins at a Mehndi party before a Punjabi family wedding. The evening begins in the garden, where the trees have been festooned with brightly coloured garlands. We tuck in to bhajis and join in Bhangra dancing led by the mother of the bride.
We are then ushered into the kitchen where food is being prepared for the evening's celebrations and tensions between two generations of sisters begin to rise. With no stage to distance us from the action, it's impossible not to get drawn in.
In the final scene, when sister Dal, who has recently given birth to twins, collapses at our feet after her husband leaves her, you immediately want to leap to her aid. Later one person confesses that she was so angry with the husband that she was sorely tempted to put her foot out, and trip him up as he exited through the audience.
When the show ends, to much applause, and some pantomime jeering for the errant husband, the cast start doing the washing-up.
'Behna' (location on booking ) until 20 May at a London home. Tickets £15 ( www.birmingham-rep.co.uk)
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