Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Perfume Garden, Oct 18, 2007

The Perfume Garden by Rajendra Moodley
Athenaeum Theatre, Oct 18 to Nov 3, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

We all know that Bollywood movies are fun. They take to a new and ridiculous high the Hollywood musical convention of bursting into song and dance at odd intervals. 

The Perfume Garden by Rajendra Moodley features occasional moments of video Bollywood-style scattered amongst domestic scenes about an Indian family.

These high camp video Indian dance segments, accompanied by the on stage actors who indulge in less elaborate dance antics, are very funny and create a vivid sense of Indian style and location that is lacking in the rather dull stage setting.

Anand (Moodley) is a depressed young Indian-Australian, living with his parents (Anastasia Malinoff, Greg Ulfan) who run a failing spice shop. Anand’s ambition is to write romantic fiction but he has writer’s block. Meanwhile, he is avoiding marrying Devi (Shireen Morris), a traditional India girl who wants permanent Australian residency.

Moodley’s almost sit-com style of writing in the family scenes is unsuccessful much of the time. The dialogue becomes repetitive and the jokes tired. The cluttered domestic stage setting does not assist the Bollywood routines and often interrupts the action.

This is not to say that there are not a few good laughs in the show. There are some funny observations about traditional Indian families and their obsession with making a good marriage, having an enormously expensive wedding, the absurdity of some of the rituals and expectations and the comic value to be had from a 30 year old living at home with his parents.

But the comic highlight is the character of Aya - played by Evelyn Krape - the old woman crippled by a stroke who is resurrected temporarily by Anand’s essential oils and a mysterious Hindu spell. Krape is outrageous and hilarious and she capers about, making suggestive comments and lewd gestures, then wearing a sari and cavorting in her Bollywood dance routines. She is a riot and definitely steals the show despite the narrative being based around Anand.

Moodley obviously draws on his own experience in this role but he still seems a little awkward on stage. There are strong performances from Ulfan as Anand’s anxious dad and Malinoff as the cheerful and obliging mother and from Morris who is delightful as the petulant Indian princess, Devi. A video cameo from Carolyn Bock is a cute satire about an Indian marriage reality show called Big Aunty.

This show is light entertainment but could benefit from more live Bollywood routines and a savage edit of the dialogue and story.

By Kate Herbert

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