Rishi and Sona have just met and now they are getting married. Although the decision was theirs, little do they realise that their actions have set in motion a formidable wedding machine, fuelled by controlling mothers-in-law, dutiful sons, petulant daughters and drunken uncles, whose collective task it is to ensure that this will be the finest wedding that Slough has ever seen. However, hidden secrets and family tensions threaten to burst the wedding bubble. Will the path to true love run smoothly? Can the old traditions survive in a different place and time?
The programme for The Deranged Marriage is an auspicious shade of vermilion, a fitting invitation for an honoured guest. On its first page the director, Pravesh Kumar, promises that his show will be different from all the other shows about arranged marriages. Does he succeed? In many ways, yes.
The Deranged Marriage brings together some of the best in British Asian talent, including Harvey Virdi (Bride & Prejudice, Bend it Like Beckham) and Pooja Shah (Eastenders). The musical director, Kuljit Bhamra (The Far Pavilions, Bombay Dreams), lived up to expectations with a score combining bhangra, Punjabi folk and Bollywood, enhanced by the nightingale voice of Shaheen Khan (who surely now only needs a medical qualification to be the epitome of perfection?).
The dialogue – English interspersed with Punjabi – was colourful, with an abundance of laugh-out-loud moments and some very funny one-liners. A particular gem was the presentation of the bride’s dowry as a pastiche of The Generation Game. Also, Goldy Notay’s facial expressions as she tries to play the perfect hostess in the midst of a growing mutiny are priceless. The set was very well designed, and the actors made good use of it.
Of course the play had its flaws: as with many mainstream British Asian productions, it was presented from a Punjabi perspective, which is often (erroneously) taken to be a sort of ‘generic’ Indian culture. Many of the characters appeared outrageously stereotyped, verging on hysterical. Often the plot became compromised by events that were chaotic and, occasionally, downright farcical, almost reminiscent of a Goodness Gracious Me sketch or two.
However, to me, therein lies the beauty of this show: like a well-arranged photo album, it creates a series of windows into peoples’ lives, thereby allowing us not only to enjoy the spectacle of the wedding, but also to experience the roller-coaster of emotions that leads to the final denouement. For example, through Rishi contemplating his future, we catch a glimpse not only of the difficulties unique to British Asians, but also of the common experiences that transcend – and perhaps unite – cultures.
Looking around the audience, I was struck by its diversity. Furthermore, many people – not just the Asian folk – responded to the ‘in-jokes’, suggesting that British Asian culture is at last being noticed, and that productions like this are to be congratulated for contributing to this phenomenon.
Perhaps, then, it was a combination of these things that made me leave the theatre with the same feeling of warmth and happiness that can only be experienced after one too many ladoos at a very long wedding…