It’s India in the 1940s and teenaged Jyoti is not permitted to choose whether or not she marries, only to whom, and even then, it’s a miserly selection. As she rearranges the polaroid photographs of her five eager suitors, she is determined that her marriage will be the thing that sets her free rather than entrapping her. Enter Rasik, wide-eyed and gangly in an ill-fitting suit and so begins the adventure.
Vinay Patel’s new play, staged at the Bush Theatre by Artistic Director Madani Younis, is a sublime story that is at once both personal and universal to anyone who has ever striven or journeyed to make a better life for their children.
The force of the writer’s personal connection to the subject matter is tangible, for this is the journey of Patel’s own grandparents. Jyoti, played by Anjana Vasan, is graceful, wry and cutting. Shubham Saraf’s Rasik is earnest and awkward, desperate to please. This contrast makes for an arresting dynamic that evolves throughout the play as their marriage withstands the ebb and flow of the years, through both political and geographical upheaval. The element that draws them together, at least initially, is their mutual desire to strike out from their current situation in life, to strive for more, not just for themselves, but also for future generations. This thread is common not just to these characters, but also to anyone who has ventured somewhere new in search of a different and better life.
An Adventure is inarguably epic. Spanning three continents and seven decades, Vasan and Saraf dance literally and figuratively through the years as they move from India to Kenya before settling in Britain. The structure is balanced and neat, with each of the three acts depicting a different era of Rasik and Jyoti’s marriage.
Patel has plundered his own family history for riches, and has come up with flashes of gold and beauty – but like all gems, this play is flawed. The script could do with a bit of cutting, as well as polishing out some puzzling inconsistencies.
Despite the satisfying symmetry of the piece, they could have done away with much of the third act. In this final act, older actors now play some – but not all – of the characters. More confusing still is one actor (Aysha Kala) now playing Jyoti’s niece rather than her daughter. I’m at a loss to understand why one actor plays a character from age 14 into late middle age, to be swapped out for a middle-aged actor to play her in old age? These elements don’t quite work, partly because the well-established characterisation and chemistry of the younger pair isn’t quite consistent with the older actors. Surely it would have made more sense to have either stuck with the original pair, or to have a different set of actors for each time period (as with the phenomenal recent production of Emilia at the Globe).
My main quibble with this production is the length. Including the two (!) intervals, it clocks in at over three and a quarter hours and to be honest, I’m not completely certain that it is quite good enough to merit taking up that big a chunk out of my evening. That said, I do believe that there should be more plays like this one – just maybe not quite this long.
An Adventure is playing at the Bush Theatre until 20 October