There's nothing phoney, though, about The Mad Woman of Our City which the company has brought to the Watermans Arts Centre as part of LIFT - or at least nothing that can be spotted by a Western eye and ear ignorant of Punjabi language and culture. Here the mad woman is not some warbling crone, but Ramanjit Kaur's bewitchingly cranky child-woman who sweeps into the colourful, bustling bazaar of Act I borne on a cycle rickshaw and shaking a hand bell. With her radiant, gap-toothed smile and eyes that effortlessly register roguishness and anguish, she's a creature who alternates elusively between the earthy and the other-worldly. Her antagonist is Ravindar Happy's fat-faced, comically corrupt-looking prospector, who claims to have detected gold under the city.
It would be accurate to call the show a play with song and wrist-twirling, skirt-swirling traditional dance, rather than a "musical", since the numbers are predominately performed by the crowd, and the B V Karanth music, with its hypnotically insistent rhythms, ranging from an almost rap-like chorus to folk scenes, is mercifully unadulterated by pop. It's uplifting precisely because there's no straining for "uplift"; the mad girl's triumph over the forces of corruption climax not in an assertive "I-am-what-I-am" personal anthem, nor a glutinous hymn to togetherness, but in a spectacular, earth- flinging ritual of cleansing. It's the collective, not the individual, which this show celebrates.
It's a shame that traffic noise prevented director Neelam Man Singh Chowdhry from carrying out the original plan of presenting the first half al fresco, contrasting the outdoor world of Act I with the curtained hermeticism of the mad girl's home in Act II. But the unsynthetic charm of this company - with Kuldeep Sharma turning in a delightful double as both the ragpicker and the comically officious, khaki shorts-wearing policeman - make spending a couple of hours indoors no great sacrifice.
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