TO BE stingy in tough times is one thing; but to make a virtue of financial meanness in the midst of an economic boom is something else again.
It’s on this truth that writer Hardeep Singh Koli and director and co-adaptor Jatinder Verma, of Tara Arts, have based their new version of Moliere’s The Miser, set in a village near Mumbai, centre of India’s booming new consumer economy; and the show they have produced is a strange mixture of brilliant potential, and puzzlingly poor execution.
The Indian setting of the play works well, with Moliere’s sceptical talk of dowries, and young girls traded off in marriage, fitting perfectly into a society in rapid transition between tradition and affluent modernity. The script has some sparky moments, with plenty of timely jokes about the sins of enforced “austerity” in a world of wealth. Claudia Mayer’s set offers a rich palette of reds and golds; and the show boasts a wonderful singer in Sohini Alam, who voices the passions of all the characters, in everything from jazz to traditional Indian.
Yet none of this is worth much if the production fails to make sense of the central story. Krupa Pattani turns in a lovely double performance as Dimple (the rebellious daughter of Harjinder, the miser) and the fat family housekeeper, Lalli Farishta. At the centre of the show, though, there’s a kind of narrative vacuum filled by the pointless grimacing and posturing of Antony Bunsee’s showy but empty performance as Harjinder. And around him, the other characters often simply hang around talking, as if – despite the presence of such fine musicians – Verma had just forgotten that Moliere’s comedies have to be played like a dance; so that when, at the end, the characters finally do start dancing, it’s as if they were finishing at the point – in terms of energy, shape and fun – where the production should have begun.