Review: A Passage to India, Royal Theatre, Northampton
I love it when you get a life-affirming whoosh from a visit to the theatre.
At the end of A Passage To India (by the simple8 ensemble as a Made In Northampton co-production) at Northampton’s Royal Theatre I felt the whoosh – partly due to the inventive and engaging storytelling and partly due to timing.
EM Forster’s classic novel was published in 1924 – when only the most visionary Brits could see the untenable nature of the British Empire. The friendship of the Muslim Doctor Aziz (Asif Khan) and the English school inspector Fielding (Richard Goulding) is at the heart of the story with the production presenting the hypothesis: “one cannot be friends with the English”.
The friendship is tested when Aziz is wrongly accused of a sexual assault on an English woman which is described in a beautifully stifled British way as an “insulting” attack.
When the book came out the best ending anyone could have hoped for would have been a bittersweet acknowledgement that in a better world our heroes could have been friends.
Seeing the story unfold in the post colonial era imbues the ending with more optimism than the original could ever contain and is a rare chance for a modern audience to feel that our muddled world is in at least one respect, a better place.
A mixed cast generates both the eclectic splendour of India and the tweedy passive-aggressive fascism of the British Raj: conjuring trains, elephants and magical caves with barely more than boxes, sticks and drapes as props.
We were treated to atmospheric original compositions from Kuljit Bhamra (performing on the night with Meera Raja). The musicians sat at the side of the stage, as did the rest of the cast, and watched the action expressively creating a busy feel reminiscent of Indian street scenes.
Goulding and Khan both turn in the strong performances required to make this buddy drama work. Goulding – instantly recognisable for playing Prince Harry in two separate TV dramas – is the decent chap ‘straight man’ to Khan’s effervescent joker.
The wry wit of Liz Crowther’s Mrs Moore is the other wellspring of levity and her portrayal of a creature too fragile for the crushing oppression of imperialism is rivetting.
I didn’t fancy the screen version and I haven’t read the novel, so I needed A Passage To India to work as a storytelling exercise and it really did. I was back in my seat after the interval wanting to know what happens next and in many ways there is no higher recommendation.
Adapted by Simon Dormandy
Directors Sebastian Armesto & Simon Dormandy
Original music composed by Kuljit Bhamra
Designer Dora Schweitzer
Lighting Designer Prema Mehta
Liz Crowther Mrs Moore/Ralph
Matthew Douglas Callendar
Christopher Doyle McBryde
Hannah Emanuel Mrs Callendar/Stella
Tibu Fortes Hamidullah
Richard Goulding Fielding
Nigel Hastings Turton
Asif Khan Aziz
Edward Killingback Ronny
Ranjit Krishnamma Godbole/Das
Phoebe Pryce Adela
Maanuv Thiara Mahmoud Ali