A Passage to India is a 1924 novel telling of Britain's generally unpleasant rule in India and takes as its story an encounter between the elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther), Adela (Phoebe Pryce), who is keen to see the real India, and Dr Aziz (Asif Khan). While their meetings seem pleasant, to begin with, events change dramatically for Aziz during a group trip to the Marabar Caves.
Simon Dormandy's adaptation condenses much of the story into relatively short scenes, however, it
|Edward Killingback as Ronny, Phoebe Pryce as Adela|
At the heart of A Passage to India is, of course, the ill-fated Aziz and he is brought to charming and heartwarming life by a superb performance from Asif Khan. While he is surrounded by an exceptional cast, it is Khan that drives the story and captivates the audience the most. Through his performance, we grow to love him and when we reach the events of the second act, we truly feel his pain, because of the strength of the character he has created.
|Liz Crowther as Mrs Moore|
Edward Killingback is suitably repulsive as magistrate Ronny, the man who truly believes that the white man should not mix with the natives and goes as far as to never speak to the kindly Aziz. You hate him, truly, and Killingback makes you do so even more through his portrayal. In opposite to this is a scene-stealing performance by the Ranjit Krishnamma as the wonderful Godbole, mastering both brilliant pauses and a comically ingenious tale of the milkmaid.
Perhaps the true strength of A Passage to India though lies in the work of its ensemble, with just drapes, bamboo canes and boxes, we travel through India via train, that splendid elephant and into the deep caves, with cast creating these before us through some brilliant movement work. The ensemble also brings to life audibly the world with the curious echo via a stirring chorus, while some equally excellent work of visible musicians (Kuljit Bhamra and Meera Rajastage) stage left, creates some really stirring music, composed by Bhamra himself.
Much like The Grapes of Wrath last year at The Royal took an early twentieth-century novel and shook it with staging innovation (but in that case mostly got it all wrong), A Passage to India gets pretty much everything right. It doesn't allow the innovation to overshadow the story, it shows a respect to the original material and while there could at times be too many innovative and perhaps quirky ideas offered here for some, it remains a brilliantly staged piece of theatre. It is on a five-stop tour as it drives a passage of its own through England, and I suggest that you try to catch it if it stops near you.
An innovative, but successfully so reimagining of a classic.
Performance reviewed: Tuesday 16th January 2018 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.
A Passage to India runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 20th January 2018 before touring.