“You don’t know who you are”
The search for identity is one which is relatable for many people but especially to those of a mixed heritage – if some in your family support Man U and others Man City, who do you support; if one parent is Christian and the other a Jew, where does the ball drop; or as in the case of Neil D’Souza’s play for the Watford Palace Theatre Coming Up, if you’re a British-born Indian what loyalties do you have to the homeland of your parents.
D’Souza’s Alan is a businessman whose call centres are actually based in Mumbai but despite frequent trips there, he hasn’t been visiting the family members who live there due to an estrangement with his father. After his death, Alan finally makes it to see his elderly aunt and cousin – in a marvellously awkward meeting – who give him a memoir his father wrote which allows him to revisit and confront a past with which he is remarkably at odds.
Far from the story of one family though, D’Souza uses this as a lens to examine Indian society at large and track the extraordinary progress of modernisation and change in a fast-moving country. And he’s unafraid to disabuse us of nostalgic notions of home being where the heart is, Alan remains spikily difficult throughout even as old playmates re-emerge and potential love interests threaten to warm the cockles of his heart.
That said, there’s an awful of content in here, multiple narrative strands that swirl endlessly and compete for attention in the crowded space of Brigid Lamour’s ensemble-based production. Five actors take on about twenty roles as past and present collide in Rebecca Brower’s set design and sometimes it’s stunning under the gorgeous lighting of Prema Mehta – D’Souza and Mitesh Soni as his compadre are beautifully moving when showing childhood best buddies shifting to alienated adults in the blink of an eye.
It can also be a bit disorientating when the time changes are so persistent throughout the play, Shona Morris’ movement is highly atmospheric but can’t distract from the fact that some key questions remain unanswered. Still, the multi-roling of D’Souza, Soni, Clara Indrani, Goldy Notay and Ravin J Ganatra is superbly done, real characters bursting to life with just the subtlest of changes from one moment to the next. Ambitiously theatrical, Coming Up might not always hit the mark completely but it is a vivid treat nonetheless.