An Adventure at the Bush Theatre
1954, post-Partition India. A young woman sits with five portraits of five suitors in front of her – a “choice between content, not form”. In stumbles one of those men, borrowed suit hanging round his knees; it’s a mismatched dance, a sparring contest where professional pummels amateur. But he’s scrappy, he gets a few licks in. He’ll do.
There’s a palpable chemistry to the opening scenes of Vinay Patel’s An Adventure. Anjana Vasan’s Jyoti and Shubham Sarif’s Rasik just have it, that undefinable quality that makes two people click. As they float in the ocean together – brought to life with an elegant, subtle choreography from director Madani Younis – the horizon of their lives stretches out in front of them. And what next? Well, a whole lot of play, that’s what.
Patel’s narrative takes in three continents, more than six decades and over 180 minutes, tracking everything from the nascent days of an arranged marriage, to the colonial politics of pre-independence Kenya, to the industrial landscape of 1970s Britain. While that sounds historically ambitious on paper, in practice the playwright is more interested in an interior journey than a global epic, a look at how life can disappoint, and how that can be OK.
There are intrusions by other characters. In Kenya, a friend turns enemy over the couple’s unwillingness to engage with the political realities of revolution, while closer to home a daughter provides a mirror of their own escape. But the story undoubtedly belongs to the challenging relationship between Jyoti and Rasik, two people fighting for a sense of home and the futures they promised themselves. In an unwelcoming, racist, socially unjust England is where things appear to coalesce, as the former finds the limits of her strength and the cruel side to the latter’s bumbling charm is exposed.
One of the most refreshing things about the production is that it’s a non-period period play. It may cover the best part of a lifetime, but those scenes in 1954-1959 and 1968-1977 are just as contemporary – especially in their humour – as the ones in 2018. It’s like a form of time travel, placing recognisably modern characters in historically specific settings without them ever feeling at odds with each other.
Yet, there’s something about An Adventure that, for this writer at least, doesn’t quite come off. It is, unsurprisingly, too long. The politically-charged conversations in Kenya sit oddly with the rest of the story. And the older versions of the central couple played by different actors can’t match the on-stage connection of their younger selves. Jyoti and Rasik may be in a very different place by 2018 than they were in at the start of their time together, but that doesn’t mean that should feel like wholly different characters.
Photo: Helen Murray
An Adventure is at the Bush Theatre from 6th September until 20th October 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.