A Passage to India: a Collaborative, Creative Adaptation
Adapting E.M. Forster’s classic novel, the latest simple8 production, A Passage to India, is an “us vs. them” tale, between Englishmen and Indians, Muslims and Hindus, men and women. Championing the oppressed parties, as positive, progressive forces for good, this production enacts the coming together of all sides as an ensemble, to creative, colourful, transportive effect.
From the opening choric sequence, there are hints that this production will perform far beyond the prim and proper dialogic scenes of a period drama piece. Simple wooden boxes suffice for all stage furniture and props are mimed, leaving the cast, bolstered by artistic lighting and atmospheric music, to create “India” in this intimate space.
Our first introduction to the setting is through clear archetypal characterisations. Leading this, Asif Khan, charmingly portraying the role of Dr Aziz, exhibits cultural nuances with excellent comic timing. Indeed the frustration evoked in audience members during the injustice of the second act is a testament to how likeably the character of Aziz is created. Alongside Aziz, Ranjit Krishnamma, as Professor Godbole, is similarly endearing with comedic effect.
Stern performances from Edward Killingback and Christopher Doyle, amongst others, mark the opposing side, as the English ruling classes. Richard Goulding, as Fielding, has the challenge of enacting the only truly noble English gentleman and achieves this with grace, eloquence, and a charming element of blundering kindness.
Yet, it is the underdogs, the Indian and female characters, who lead this show. Mrs Moore, the upstanding English matriarch, is played with great strength by Liz Crowther. Permitting moments of light girlishness to seep through her aristocratic façade allows for real intimacy with the audience. Phoebe Pryce, as Adela, contrasts the guttural power of Mrs Moore, bringing some heart-wrenching moments of emotional uncertainty to the part.
This production is emphatically presented in two halves. Poetically, the play’s characters descend into a corrupt and bigoted mob in Mrs Moore’s absence; but redemption is offered by her reappearance in the role of her jittery son, Ralph. From then on, the set is transformed into a colourful, peaceful and sonic representation of India. Amidst the religious and moral uncertainty of the plot, there is a key female figure who teaches of tolerance, acceptance and faith.
When characters step out from their dialogue to indulge in excerpts of third person narration, we are reminded of Forster’s eloquent source material. These speeches form a fitting nod to the original novel, and the cast manage them well, allowing their characters to do the storytelling. Yet, as the first act places these moments few and far between, they seem to fit somewhat jarringly between scenes, rather than creating a fluid motif that punctuates the story.
Having said that, as the production crescendos towards the interval and beyond, it evolves into a stylised set of movement sequences and soundscapes, where such external narration comfortably finds its place. Utilising the full ensemble, armed simplistically with bamboo sticks, some cloth and a box of matches, the “real India” comes alive in the perfectly choreographed, visually arresting creation of a train carriage, an elephant and the consuming Marabar Caves. With just two musicians flanking the stage, matching the minimal design of the action, the inclusion of a live soundtrack imbues these moments with a tense, immersive atmosphere. Plunged into blackout, resurfacing with flickering matches amidst the chanting echo of the cast, the creation of the caves marks a formidable shift in the style of the piece.
The second act continues such stylised action, with horse riding, rowing boats and fireworks over a lake, all conjured masterfully through the collective mime of the ensemble. Whilst scenes of dialogue ease the audience into the story, and also allow for moments of honest emotional performance throughout, it is when the full cast are on stage as a chorus that the production garners its transportive, imaginative momentum. The show storms towards an abrupt, dramatic ending, with no signs of slowing the pace.
This production, like its story, ultimately celebrates “the other” through collaborative performance, creativity and colour.