Starring: Esh Alladi, Catherine Russell, Asif Khan, Shanaya Rafaat, Humera Syed, Nav Sidhu, Cecilia Appiah, Stephen Fewell, Shaban Dar, Andrew French, Reginald Edwards, Giles Cooper
Writer: Tanika Gupta; Director: Pooja Ghai
The successful writer-director partnership of Tanika Gupta MBE and Pooja Ghai in this theatre adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic is a fabulous rendition, carved with keen observations of themes such as race, gender and class, woven in a tale that makes you laugh one moment and shed a tear the next.
Pipli (Alladi) – the adapted version of Pip from Dickens’ original – starts his journey as a young, innocent village boy who, despite knowing very little of the outside world, has the gift of unbridled curiosity and inquisitiveness - something which would not fail to tug at the hearts of the viewers. When a young Pipli meets a local memsahib – a term used during the British Raj for British women – he is not only met with a lifestyle which is in stark contrast to his own but his encounters with the memsahib’s adopted daughter, Estella (Appiah), further burden him with increasing embarrassment about his own identity and roots. Soon after, he is sponsored by an unknown benefactor and moves to Kolkata for better education and to be become a “gentleman” – leaving behind his sister and brother-in-law and becoming estranged with his Indian roots in the process.
Alladi commands the stage effortlessly with his incredible talent, bringing out every shade and hue of the fascinating character and allowing the viewers an intimate insight into Pipli’s mind – be it through dialogues, facial expressions, or body language. Pipli’s relationship with his sister, Krishna, (Rafaat) and brother-in-law, Jagu, (Khan) is both real and heart-warming. The natural interactions between the actors are witness to the immense talent as well as the hard work put in behind the scenes. May it be Miss Havisham (Russell), Malik (French) or Herbert Pocket (Cooper), all the characters – and the actors who play them – are a joy to watch and contribute to the story in a unique and irreplaceable way.
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"A class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect," is just one of the famous historical references used by the makers. Said originally by Thomas Babington Macaulay in reference to the Indian education system, the quote not only summarises the period’s prevalent attitudes towards race, it also foreshadows the worsening of Pipli’s own identity crisis.
Similarly, the use of Pipli’s clothes to indicate the fluctuating and conflicting nature of his dilemma-ridden identity is subtle but effective.
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Gaining a well-deserved standing ovation which lasted several minutes, this adaptation lives up to the hype it has generated and goes beyond. The show – which runs until early next month – is an absolute must watch for all lovers of art, philosophy, history, theatre, storytelling, drama and everything in between!
*Info: ‘Great Expectations’