The latest play from acclaimed playwright Vinay Patel, An Adventure tells the story of Patel’s grandparents as they crossed continents for a home worth fighting for. Annabel Mellor reviews:

How would your life look as a patchwork of your most significant conversations? A quilt of chances seized, leaps made, tempers lost? The most profound words, and the most hurtful, all leaving your lips unbidden?

Vinay Patel‘s An Adventure is a play that asks such epic questions, a large play in every sense – big-hearted, with three meaty acts. It spans continents and generations, encompassing entrenched conflicts and deep wounds. It touches on huge and existential themes. And all these multitudes exist within a series of conversations between our heroes. Just talking. Just like every day.

Adventure Bush Theatre

Shubham Saraf & Anjana Vasan (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

The first act follows Jyoti (Anjana Vasan) and Rasik (Shubham Saraf) as they meet & marry in 1950s India and take a leap together into the unknown. Patel’s sparky dialogue engenders instant warmth for his central characters. The young lovers move gracefully, almost balletically, across the bare stage and around one another. In one particularly beautiful scene the playful Jyoti leads Rasik into the sea (he can’t swim) and holds him, spellbound, in the water.

The young couple start their new life together in Nairobi, Kenya. Their growing intimacy is a bubble of hope in a stricken land of conflict, oppression and furious rebellion. Here, the complex tensions of east Africa are gently teased out in Jyoti and Rasik’s interactions with David (Martins Imhangbe), a revolutionary spirit fighting to free Kenya and with whom their lives & fates become inextricably linked. But as the violence intensifies and begins to threaten their young family, they are forced to leap once more.

Adventure Bush Theatre

Martins Imhangbe & Anjana Vasan (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

The second act finds our heroes in London, in the next decade. Jyoti is a working mother – a breadwinner and an activist, unwittingly inspired by the friend they left behind in Kenya. Through their elder daughter Sonal (Aysha Kala) we see complexities and flaws. The relationship warps under the strain of keeping it all together, as each begins to wrangle with their own sense of identity.

The drama is led by two glorious performances from Vasan and Saraf. Vasan is a force of nature as younger Jyoti and captures her subtle transformations as she occupies each new role: wife, mother, activist, rebel, slave. She mourns the loss of herself as she labours with her first daughter, and the audience mourns with her. Saraf is her hinge, a counterpoint to her dynamism, often hapless but always well-meaning. Imhangbe has immense energy and presence as David, carefully revealing timely glimmers of the character’s poetic mind and unexpected vulnerability.

Adventure Bush Theatre

Selva Rasalingam & Nila Aalia (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

The third and final act is in the present day – the older Jyoti (Nila Aalia) and Rasik (Selva Rasalingham) attend the funeral of the sister Jyoti left behind in India. Retrospection takes centre stage in a reckoning, existential sequence dealing with love, loss, choice, freedom and memory. It’s a profound piece of writing – a meditation on all the little decisions, seemingly inconsequential at the time, that make up a life.

As Aalia and Rasalingham take over, there is the danger that the audiences loses emotional connection with the characters, but they quickly reel the atmosphere back. Rasalingham is particularly moving in his depiction of the still-traumatised Rasik, haunted by the ghosts of his siblings.

Adventure Bush Theatre

Anjana Vasan (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Relying on sparse design, with cinema-size screens at either end of the traverse stage and some soil spread around to connect with the land, An Adventure has a stripped-back aesthetic, one that lets the text do the talking. Sally Ferguson‘s lighting design creates distinct moods and atmospheres as the play makes its great leaps in both space and time. It’s a huge story, one to which director Madani Younis does great justice by allowing it time to breathe and silence to resonate. Younis suspends a series of tender moments for, shimmering like soap bubbles – unhurried, perfect and ephemeral. Patel’s mighty work of time, place and family mythology is universal in his capable hands.

There is a lot of truth in here. It’s not always a pleasant watch, often bitter and sad. But An Adventure is deeply affecting and full of wisdom. Telling a deeply personal story is a challenge and responsibility – Patel rises to both.

★★★★☆

An Adventure runs at the Bush Theatre until 20 October 2018. For more information and tickets, visit the website here.