Tristan Bates Theatre

(Originally published by What’s on Stage Nov’12)

Homelands shift and souls are sliced in a two-course offering from the Conspirators’ Kitchen Theatre. The play thrusts the audience into the dark, tumultuous world of Loretta, an Ayah working in Victorian England, before settling into Kalil’s more sedate account of his journey from East Africa to the UK, decades later. It’s certainly a play of two parts, with a gripping opening, followed unfortunately, by a less satisfactory end.

Loretta (whose real name was deemed too complicated to pronounce), was brought to Victorian England at the tender age of sixteen to take charge of Captain Robert Walsh’s ‘gingernut’ children. An incident with dumplings and a gross injustice propelled her into desperate and destitute circumstances and as her situation worsens the idea of her return to India moves towards a precipice. Decades later, her relative Kalil makes the journey from East Africa, to the UK. A tragic event leads him to resentfully withdraw from the country he invested in and he immerses himself in religion. For Loretta and Kalil, the UK becomes their Golgotha, spurring a spiritual death, as opposed to a physical one.

Under Iqbal Khan’s crisp direction, Anjana Vasan emerges from a pile of clothing strewn across a musty set. Dressed in a piece of ragged cloth that resembles a potato sack, her Loretta is venomous, bitter and demonic. Vasan’s ability to retain a child-like manner throughout Loretta’s torment is exemplarily. Supporting her, is a masked Raj Ghatak, who slips in and out of the shadows, (aided by Jane Mackintosh’s brilliant use of light) to become the men who broke her. In part two, Vasan becomes the haunting figure, lurking in Kalil’s story.

Nirjay Mahindru’s script has moments of poignancy, but when the production steps forward in time to Kalil’s story, it leaps back in terms of impact. The decision to tag the tale of Kalil to that of Loretta’s diminishes the power of both the story and production. Whilst part one is powerful, inventive and original, part two offers a tepid aftertaste, laced in cliché, with Kalil mispronouncing literary classics and referring to the kids who have become “coconuts”.

Golgotha soars to new heights, before retreating into a windless day.