Theatre review: The Deranged Marriage, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Clara Indrani as Sona in The Deranged Marriage at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Clara Indrani as Sona in The Deranged Marriage at West Yorkshire Playhouse
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The Deranged Marriage, which returns to West Yorkshire Playhouse a decade after its creation as part of a 10th anniversary tour, is like a sumptuous Indian feast.

On the whole it’s tasty and full of spicy delights, but like any feast, the danger of overindulging is clear and present.

The story is ostensibly about a modern arranged marriage, with the main character Sona (Clara Indrani) pointing out from the start that it’s her choice and ‘not like being forced’.

As we follow the wedding preparations - overseen by Sona’s overbearing aunt Lata (Balvinder Sopal) and variety of extended family - she spends the rest of the play trying to convince herself that this clan-appeasing compromise is what her confused heart truly desires.

The title suggested a farce straight out of Ealing comedy, but instead we were presented with a Bollywood ‘masala’ film - with a mish mash of tones.

Alarm bells started ringing when one of the first non-Asian characters introduced was an elderly white neighbour who started spouting about this being her country. I wondered if I’d mistakenly walked into a UKIP rally. If this minor character was meant to be ironic, it was lost on me.

A visually standout - if slightly overplayed - moment was a sensuous dream sequence involving Sona and her wedding video-maker/teenage flame Tony (Stephen Lloyd).

There was a definite sense of the producers trying to create a Bollywood film on a theatre stage.

A real highlight was the excellent interaction with the audience, who were treated as ‘guests’ at the wedding. If you are sitting in the front row, be warned you may be making an impromptu cameo!

The live video feed via a big screen projection of the wedding preparations was also a novel and brilliant touch.

There were moments of deep pathos - especially Sona’s reminiscences of her deceased father, and Uncle Bali’s (Ravin J Ganatra) reflections on the immigrant condition. There was also a topical chord with General Election fever raging.

I felt there were a few too many stock characters like the interfering aunt, the henpecked husband and disapproving neighbour.

There were also some unnecessary characters like Sunny, Tony’s friend and colleague, who was deaf, but for no apparent reason other than to allow a bit of sign language to be inserted into the play.

The humour hit the mark for the most part - watch out for a brilliant joke about Indian cashpoints.

The stage setting was also stunning, although it was more reminiscent of a Bollywood mansion than a modest semi in Slough. The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ balcony was well used throughout.

I also liked the clever use of acoustics to move from reality to the dreamy and flashback sequences,

The groom Rishi (Aaron Virdee) was reduced to a cartoonish side character, and I felt the nuances in his role - and that of his overprotective mother - could have been developed much further. Then again, that is possibly a whole other play on another day.

The music and dance sequences were brilliantly choreographed and hugely entertaining. And the colour and spectacle of an Asian wedding was portrayed well, with all the necessary glitter and colour.

The twist and surprise element of an additional love story involving more senior characters - in many ways the real love story - was a lovely addition.

But the overall tone - which swung from poignant to slapstick and back again - was rather confusing, and quite exhausting

The ‘deranged’ of the title didn’t really play out until near the very end, and by then we were so involved in the emotional lives of the characters that it seemed overdone.

For pure entertainment value, The Deranged Marriage is brilliant - cleverly bringing the colour, spectacle and emotional rollercoaster of Bollywood to the stage.

But it seemed there was a lack of ambition, or perhaps more precisely a lack of courage by the producers in their own convictions.

There was, at times, a bit too much reliance on first generation immigrant clichés about a complex British community that is now into its third or fourth generation. It simply isn’t enough to throw in a few up to date songs and references to social media and iPads. Life - and not just technology - has moved on, even in 10 years.

Despite this, there was plenty in the proceedings to strike a genuine chord, and the mixed audience clearly had a great time.

The acting on the whole was excellent, with standouts being Veejay Kaur as Sona’s mum, who brought a light touch to a pivotal but quieter role. And Sheena Patel as Kiran, the spinsterly comical cousin with a heart of gold, elicited genuine sympathy and warmth from the audience.

The Deranged Marriage, presented by Rifco Arts, completes it run at West Yorksire Playhouse on Sunday, May 10 at 7.30pm.

Rating: 3 out of 5