E. M. Forster’s adapted screenplay, A Passage To India, is a challenging watch – not because it’s a poorly executed production (far from it), but because of the racialist undertones that perpetuate the time period. India is still an extension of the British empire and while slavery isn’t in effect, there is a clear distinction between the ‘upper’ classes of the white British, and the ‘lower’ classes of the native Indian population. Simon Dormandy’s adaptation doesn’t shy away from this sticky subject – it’s historically accurate. But, there is some sense of cultural appropriation among the predominantly white, chanting ensemble.

For the most part, there is an interesting fusion in Dormandy and fellow director Sebastian Armesto’s vision – composer Kuljit Bhamra fuses the music of East and West into a constant percussive drone with a disturbing, regular metre. It’s a clever device, lulling the audience into a false sense of security with its monotony, until poignant points of the production where it crescendos into a climactic roar.

Each of Dormandy’s characters are very of their time. There’s the prim and proper British women, subservient to the demands of their male counterparts – Adela (Phoebe Pryce) tries to buck the trend by seeking intelligence but is far too meek to assert her own authority. The contrast in performance with the elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther) is night and day; the former misses the opportunity to be a strong, decisive woman while the other, older and more worldly, is far more blunt and forthright in her opinions. Both performances are viable, but the older is a character far easier to relate to among the audience in the Park Theatre.

A Passage To India Park Theatre

Image courtesy of Idil Sukan

Once formalities are dealt with, the cracks in the seemingly civilised Indian colonial system start to show, particularly with regards to the male ego – the might of city magistrate Ronny (Edward Killingback) comes down full force against accused Indian Dr Aziz (Asif Khan). But as the conflict marks a sticking point in the system, so does the production value of A Passage To India stall and stutter – once the cave sequence, cleverly conceived by Dora Schweitzer’s design, concludes the first half, the concept of the production goes out of the window. The trial falls apart when morality is rekindled, a somewhat ridiculous and implausible narrative that aptly highlights the farce of the court proceedings in the first place. There then follows a series of endings that never quite conclude, all coming out of the blue and at odds with the remainder of the storyline.

Richard Goudling & Asif Khan (image courtesy of Idil Sukan)

A Passage To India sets itself up to be a conflicted drama where the ways of the West are losing their grip on the Indian culture, where revolution and independence from the invaders is at its flash point. But the conclusion is one of predictable redemption, a compromise where two cultures seem to marry, personified by Fielding (Richard Goulding). It’s pleasant and warming, but it doesn’t capitalise on the tension that is carefully constructed by the remainder of the production.

 

 

★★★☆☆

A Passage To India runs at Park Theatre until 24 March 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.