Traverse Theatre – until 18 February 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Combining thought-provoking intelligence and the genuinely moving, Made In India at the Traverse is a very fine production. Satinder Chohan’s play – presented by Tamasha and the Belgrade, Coventry in association with Pilot Theatre – confronts dilemmas born of modern science that involve age-old concerns.
London advertising executive Eve (Gina Isaac) has come to a clinic in Gujarat to find a surrogate mother for the baby she feels will complete her life. Dr Gupta (Syreeta Kumar) is trying to expand her clinic catering to foreign patients like Eve, while under threat of a government ban on paid surrogacy. Potential surrogate Aditi (Ulrika Krishnamurti) can bring her children out of poverty, but risks the condemnation of those around her.
Much of the story and staging is apparently simple, while in reality there is a great deal going on here. Themes of colonialism, gender politics, culture clash and the way technological advances relate to established morality, permeate the play.
However hard she may try, Eva’s actions – wanting to choose her surrogate as if from a catalogue, attempting to communicate courtesy of Google Translate, feeling she ‘understands’ India – see her slipping into the attitudes of the Raj. The effects of colonialism die hard on both sides. Patriarchal attitudes are in evidence in both countries too; Aditi says that boys have it so much easier, while Eve feels that, however successful she my be on her own terms, she cannot be regarded as a ‘real woman’ while she remains childless.
The introduction of outside jeopardy comes close to overbalancing a play whose themes threaten to overwhelm it; there are also a couple of occasions where something is made explicit that has already been perfectly clear, but these are rare in a limpid and sensitive script. The production does the play full justice, thanks to Lydia Denno’s beautifully versatile design, Prema Mehta’s similarly clever lighting and Arun Ghosh’s music and sound.
Katie Posner’s direction, moreover, is exemplary, making great use of the space in Traverse 2 and of the performers, while never drawing undue attention to itself. Isaac, Krishnamurti and Kumar are excellent, each providing an intense yet thoroughly believable and complex characterisation; there is also a real ensemble feel to the production, with the cast supporting each other even if the characters do not. One of the strengths of the piece is how information about the characters is drip-fed throughout in a way that never seems artificial, and the cast are largely responsible for this working so well.
In one sense this is an intimate and small-scale piece of theatre, but there is nothing small-scale about the emotions on display or the ramifications of its themes. The ‘New India’ portrayed here – like many such political re-inventions – seems to leave the same people in charge, the same people exploited. Money talks the loudest, and simple statements about choice can mean very different things to those for whom circumstances leave little choice at all.