Your accent; the colour of your skin; your name – each is a part of your identity and yet also a way in which others make snap judgements as to your upbringing, your cultural background or your nationality. Ajay (Chris Nayak) is American through and through, yet his name on a page gives people the impression that he is at one with his Indian heritage. They assume that he feels patriotic towards India and not towards his home country. The concept of belonging, of nature vs. nurture, pervades throughout Jennifer Maisel’s There Or Here, a show that never quite makes up its mind as to whether one is preferable to the other. Maybe it shouldn’t – a combination of both is surely the ideal.

Theatre Or Here Park Theatre

Ursula Mohan and Lucy Fenton (image courtesy of Ikin Yum)

Maisel jumps around Robyn’s (Lucy Fenton) timeline – battles with cancer; the decision to plan for a family; outsourcing the surrogacy for the sake of cost. Maybe the latter is to help husband Ajay (Nayak) connect with the country he was born in, but one that he doesn’t consider he belongs to. The constant toing and froing through the narrative is well intentioned but reduces the overall impact of the key messages – Vik Sivalingam’s direction comes across more like a series of isolated vignettes than an overall storyline. Everything is well executed, yet nothing feels grounded or settled. There’s a parallel to be drawn somewhere in that…

Theatre Or Here Park Theatre

Chris Nayak (image courtesy of Ikin Yum)

The fusion of American and Indian cultures is imprinted on Robbie Butler’s projection and seeps through Nicola Chang’s sound design – an Asian beef salad meets a cheeseburger in a late-night drive thru and makes for an endearing exchange of wit and frustration between Ajay (Nayak) and Jessica (Rakhee Thakrar). Sivalingam emphasises the prejudice angle between surrogate father Rajit (Manish Gandhi) and biological father Ajay to good effect – the hostility of the cultural divide transcends the supposed similarity that may stem from race or skin colour. It’s these small details that are well picked up on in There Or Here; each micro-encounter between the characters is full of emotion and weight, whether that be light-hearted laughter or hard-hitting home truths.

Theatre Or Here Park Theatre

Rakhee Thakrar (image courtesy of Ikin Yum)

It is for this reason that Thakrar consistently draws the eye. As the one playing multiple roles, Thakrar is able to showcase her versatility – the open-hearted kindness of the surrogate mother juxtaposes the confused conformity of Angelina, the Tech Support worker, or Brittany/ Holly, the sex line call girl. There is something in the anonymity of it all that separately draws in both Robyn (Fenton) and Ajay (Nayak) – each feel they can be more honest with the strangers than with each other. The chemistry between these two leads is pleasant and supportive. It may perhaps benefit from some added tension, a tug of war between unexpectedly straying from the path versus the untapped potential that stems from the unknown.

Theatre Or Here Park Theatre

Chris Nayak & Lucy Fenton (image courtesy of Ikin Yum)

The problem with There Or Here is that it is neither her nor there. It buzzes around the core topics of fertility and self-identity without driving either message home. There are some well delivered points around personal connections that are free from prejudice, but There Or Here is too disperse to cement these to real effect.

 

★★★☆☆

To read more about There Or Here, which plays at the Park Theatre until 1 February 2018, follow the show on Twitter (@ThereOrHerePlay) or visit the venue website.