Written by British Indian playwright and actor Harvey Virdi, 'Happy Birthday Sunita', a 2014 sell-out comedy from Rifco Theatre Company, is set to comeback this summer with a revived script and a fresh line-up of strong female leads. Directed by Pravesh Kumar MBE, the play will capture the complex family dynamics of the Johal family in a post-Brexit and post-pandemic world.
The story is about the dysfunctional Johal family whose future is changed forever at Sunita's explosive surprise 40th birthday party! The raucous samosa saga will tour across the UK starting from May 5 to July 5. It will see not just the dhal bubbling under the surface but the Johals' decades of unfinished business.
Digging deeper into the characters and the relationships between them, the 2023 version stars Indian TV and film actress Divya Seth Shah (Duranga, Jab We Met), who takes on the role of Tejpal, the matriarch of the Johal house. Leicester-based actress Bhawna Bhawsar (Eastenders, Emmerdale) stars as Sunita, the reclusive birthday girl, and west London-based rising star Rameet Rauli (Eastenders, Little English) plays Harleen, Tejpal's high-maintenance daughter-in-law.
The cast is completed by talented actors Devesh Kishore (Last Night and The Bone Sparrow) who plays Tejpal's fun-loving son, a typical Punjabi mummy's boy, and Keiron Crook (Coronation Street), who plays Maurice, an east end builder made good, who's been working on Tejpal's kitchen renovations.
When the Johals gather in their newly renovated kitchen for Sunita's surprise birthday party, it slowly emerges that each family member has been wearing a mask. Confrontations erupt, and their masks begin to slip. Secrets are revealed, and the truth about relationships unravels. As each character confronts their truth, the family reaches a crossroads and must decide how to live their authentic lives.
Playwright Virdi, known to fans as Misbah Maalik in Channel 4's popular show 'Hollyoaks', said: "Relationships can be hard in any family dynamic. We all go through ups and downs and often shy away from speaking the truth. We are so worried about what 'people' say and what 'people' will think that we forget to listen to ourselves and our families and what is important for us.
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"In the play, everyone's true selves start to burst out when they least expect it. And it's up to the family to pick each other back up and celebrate themselves for who they truly are. If we let society and community hold us back, then have we actually made the most of the one life we have been blessed with? It was a wonderful opportunity to explore this aspect of family life and show how being true and honest with ourselves can make us stronger."
Exploring themes of traditional gender roles, conformity, ageism and independence, the play has all the drama, emotion and surprises of a family at breaking point. Unexpected guests, butter-free roti and skeletons in the cupboard aren't enough to stop the family from busting out some classic Punjabi shapes in the kitchen!
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Pravesh Kumar MBE is the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the award-winning Rifco Theatre Company. He has been recognised in the New Year's Honours list and received an MBE for his contribution to British theatre earlier this year. Pravesh has a background in film and has worked in Bollywood for many years. His first feature film, ‘Little English’ released in UK cinemas in March 2023.