A Passage to India

A Passage to India

Directed by Sebastian Armesto & Simon Dormandy
Simple8 Company
Liverpool Playhouse
6 February – 10 February 2018

Reviewed by Finvola Dunphy
Photograph by Idil Sukan

After battling the snow and ice on my way to Simon Dormandy’s adaptation, I was somewhat hesitant about my passage to India. However, as soon as Kuljit Bhamra’s live music filled the auditorium, I was warmed through and filled with eager anticipation.

Very quickly we are thrust into the fictional city of Chandrapore in British India where young schoolmistress, Adela Quested, played rather enthusiastically by Phoebe Pryce, and her elderly friend, Mrs Moore, played by Liz Crowther, are eager to discover ‘the real’ India. After being introduced to Indian Muslim physician, Dr. Aziz, they decide to embark upon a journey to the Marabar Caves to satiate their respective scholarly and spiritual appetites.

The caves, stunningly represented by a tangle of bamboo sticks held at jaunting angles, create the claustrophobic environment in which a Dr. Aziz’s alleged sexual assault takes place.

But the threatening echoes, ‘bou-um’ or ‘ou-boum’ chanted over and over again plunge us into a sense of confusion that imitates the blurring of social, culture and political boundaries in this unsettled imperial India.

Asif Khan’s humorous portrayal of Dr. Aziz provided much needed comic relief from the density of dialogue and the theatrical interpretation of this classic novel. It was brilliantly timed as the second act takes us to his trial in an Indian courtroom where his subdued and humbled nature seems all the most stark and out-of-place consequently.

This production’s minimalistic design style brings character relationships to the forefront rather than remaining rigidly true to the 1920’s era. By brilliantly combining the naturalistic elements of E.M. Forster’s narrative with stylised movement, Simple8’s production transports us to Imperial India and reminds us of a struggle that is far from over.

Richard Goulding stole the show with his performance as Cyril Fielding, whose relationship with Aziz amplifies the divisions brought about by power, wealth and belief.

However, it wasn’t just accents that differentiated between the British and Indians in this production. Nor were their clothes any more of an indication of diversity than the colour of their skin.

What Forster so illuminates are the intangible man-made social, political and culture structures that truly divide us. Dormandy’s adaptation exposes these things that we are born into but cannot see, that are dictated to us, but we do not question.

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