Fringe theatre reviews: Rajesh and Naresh | Gash Theatre Gets Ghosted | The Entertainment

It's over 35 years since My Beautiful Laundrette presented a positive portrayal of a gay Asian man in a mainstream movie. Written by Hanif Kureshi and directed by Stephen Frears, it was about Gordon Warnecke's Omar, a young Pakistani Londoner, and Daniel Day Lewis's Jonny, a white punk, who take over a laundrette and fall in love.

Nathalie Ellis-Einhorn and Maddie Flint in Gash Theatre Get Ghosted
Nathalie Ellis-Einhorn and Maddie Flint in Gash Theatre Get Ghosted

It would be nice to report that, all these decades later, things have got easier for gay men growing up in London's traditionally conservative communities, but if Rajesh and Naresh (***) is a guide, that's not the case. In fact, one of the jokes in James Ireland's play is that Naresh (Madhav Vasantha) is a good deal more comfortable with his sexuality living in supposedly conservative India, where homosexuality was decriminalised only in 2018, than Rajesh (Brahmdeo Shannon Ramanda), building up the courage to come out to his mother in supposedly easy-going UK.

When he does manage to tell her, it makes for a powerful scene in an otherwise modest and predictable play. Directed by Sophie Cairns, it is about two men finding in each other the emotional life they lack; the good-looking Rajesh taking cover behind superficial one-night stands; the 42-year-old Naresh lacking the flamboyance to throw himself into the gay scene. It's a sweet, honest relationship, but it feels like the main value of the play is to let the world know gay Indian stories exist.

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Nathalie Ellis-Einhorn and Maddie Flint appear to have no such hang-ups about their sexuality in Gash Theatre Gets Ghosted (****) Whether with men or women, they are comfortable with their romantic relationships, even if the "ghosting" of the title extends to the lovers they'd sooner forget.

What does bother them is gendered imagery. On one level, their online play is a schlocky send-up of the horror movie. It begins with the shaky hand-held camera movements of The Blair Witch Project before the two performers find themselves trapped in a haunted house with the lights off. With their home-made special effects (you can always see the strings) and their melodramatic gestures, they don't expect you to take their predicament seriously.

What is serious, though, is their feminist critique. If this house is haunted, it is less by the ghost that leaves them teasing messages on heart-shaped cards than by the iconography of pop culture.

Sam Kaseta's sound design is layered with male voices, from Fight Club to James Bond, from Arnold Schwarzenegger's “I'll be back” to Humphrey Bogart's “We'll always have Paris”. They are variously macho and suave, a shield, perhaps, for the raw masculinity of the werewolf that appears at the first sight of a full moon.

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By contrast, Ellis-Einhorn and Maddie Flint go into maiden-in-distress mode, all agonised expressions and flailing arms. When the noise stops, they talk about how these images of violence and vulnerability have worked their way into their real-life relationships. That their conversations appear to be voiced by the furniture only adds to the heightened theatricality of an amusing and provocative show.

A different sort of horror emerges in Katie Bonna's The Entertainment (****), an audio play that starts as gentle observational comedy and develops into something dark and traumatic. It's about Anna, an employee of a children's party entertainment company who, as a form of meditation, retreats to the “happy place” fantasy of her headphones. As her unexpected crush on a workmate intensifies, her inner monologue becomes ever more frantic. The line between fact and fiction blurs and her escape from reality more desperate. It reaches a happy ending, but it is hard won and all the more rewarding for it.Rajesh and Naresh, Summerhall online; Gash Theatre Gets Ghosted, Assembly Showcatcher (online); The Entertainment, Summerhall online.

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