There’s a constant supply of chah in the Gill household, which is just as well given the friction that sits firmly within this family threshold. Directed by Roxana Silbert and co-produced with the Birmingham Rep, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti ‘s latest offering is a safe piece about a Sikh family, weighed down by obligation and trapped within the space created when generations and aspirations collide.
Jeeto is the brash, widowed matriarch whose continual stream of demands set the rhythm of the household. Sat in the kitchen of a five bedroom house, adorned with framed pictures of the family, the Sikh Gurus and the Golden Temple, Jeeto never fails to remind her son Pal of the sacrifices she made after settling in the UK and his duty to uphold her values.
Pal runs the family business, but has cast his sights on selling the shop and setting up a care home for “Asian elders,” whilst his wife Liz; the servile and dutiful daughter-in-law (who goes so far as to touch her mother-in-law’s feet out of respect and then fetch the basin in which to soak them), dreams of becoming a mother.
Delivered into this domestic setup is Reema, the wife of Pal’s cousin (stay with me), who, having been abandoned by her husband leaves India for the UK, with apparent ease. Her arrival triggers a turn of events which re-directs the family’s kismet.
There’s a steady current of conflict, as the characters wrestle with familial ties and individual desires. Disappointingly, these conflicts and themes do not feel wholly original. Jeeto dreams of returning to a perceived “home”, her animated daughter Cookie, has never loved the husband she didn’t chose, and Pal is shackled by the sacrifices made by his parents and the subsequent expectations placed upon him. The prospect of selling the family-owned land in India is a slight twist of modernity, but it ultimately fails to shed the dated feel that shrouds the play.
Preeya Kalidas is convincing as the long-suffering Reema, while performances from Zita Sattar and Neil D’Souza, (who play Cookie and her husband Major), are also strong. It’s a shame then that the central characters lean towards stereotypes, calling out for a range and depth that would stretch both the story and overall impact of the play.
There’s the promise of high drama, but sadly, this Khandan is underwhelming.
Khandan, Royal Court Theatre
(First published on What’s on Stage June ’14)