Kicking off a substantial tour that will take in Delhi and Mumbai as well as numerous UK theatres, Harvey Virdi’s Happy Birthday Sunita opens at Watford Palace Theatre and ever curious, a cheeky trip to a Sunday matinée felt in order. This Rifco Arts production centres on a British Punjabi family as they gather to celebrate a surprise 40th birthday celebration for Sunita. All is going well but the birthday girl is nowhere to be seen…
For as with any family, the Johals have their secrets and dramas and lifelong resentments and as the drinks starts to flow, truths start to spill out over the plates of curries and rotis. There’s a real sense of the family bond here though, no matter how strained it gets – in the blink of an eye, brother and sister go from bickering to bhangra dancing, the mother who makes sure all the cooking is done before unleashing her own shocking revelation.
Virdi is particularly keen on exploring the impact of bi-culturalism on their lives – Tejpal and her husband arrived here 40 years ago but the pull of home remains strong, he’s back in India building the family a new house and whilst she has a spanking new kitchen, her old spice-infused one has been reassembled in the garage. And even for the younger generation who are more superficially Westernised, their behaviour patterns speak of age-old tradition that they don’t want disturbed.
Indian film star Shabana Azmi is brilliant as the redoubtable Tejpal, a matriarch determined to take her life in her own hands, Ameet Chana and Goldy Notay as married couple Nav and Harleen beautifully dissect the compromises faced by many modern British Punjabis caught between familial duty and their own lives, and Clara Indrani makes an assured debut as Sunita. Well worth tracking down if it comes near to you.