Made in India
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
MADE IN INDIA has everything on its side. A delightful yet serious script; a charmingly intimate production; pleasing set, good lighting, an appealing soundtrack: it scores on every front.
The seriousness hinges on the subject. Eva, a European woman in perhaps her forties, is desperate to have a child by her late husband, killed in a car crash. For this she seeks a clinic, the technology and a surrogate mother, and travels to India to find them.
She has an appointment with the very competent but slightly feisty and unpredictable Dr. Gupta, who runs a chain of surrogate mother candidates, regardless of legal entitlement.
She has selected for the task Aditi, a young girl of simple background, and the unfolding of the story features the interplay, often explosive, between the three of them, but especially about Eva learning how to deal, very differently, with the other two. It is a steep learning curve, not without its comic side, but sometimes literally focusing on matters of life and death.
Though it sounds simple, the emotional and practical issues are pretty intense: will Eva emerge with a baby at all (in the end, she does, with the boy of two twins; the baby girl dies before birth)?
What are the implications for Aditi? Having housed the embryos in her womb, will she be able to face parting with them, or become possessive? How much will she be paid, and can Dr.Gupta be relied upon to finalise a proper deal?
Satinder Chohan’s new play, presented here by Tamasha Theatre Company (the name means ‘commotion’: they are not afraid to address challenging subjects) with the Belgrade in association with Pilot Theatre, is compact, well cast, beautifully characterised, elegant and wise.
From the moment Eva arrives at the clinic, to be greeted with a garland of marigolds, the tension between Eva (Gina Isaac) and Dr. Gupta (Syreeta Kuma) – both give engaging, even at times gripping performances – begins to mount. The doctor has chosen the surrogate (‘You’re renting a womb…I’ll select the most appropriate uterus..’; and almost comically ‘This should be a blind date’); Eva insists on her right to vet the candidate.
Ulrika Krishnamurti as surrogate Adita with Gina Isaac
as Eva, the mother by proxy
Ulrika Krishnamurti as surrogate Adita with Gina Isaac as Eva, the mother by proxy
When Surrogate No. 32 – the 28 year old Aditi – appears, she does not encourage confidence in Eva. She has (at that stage) virtually no English, so communicating directly is near impossible. She is cletharly shy, nervous, self-effacing, yet her look is almost like a sneer; she waggles her head as many self-respecting Indians do when speaking.
She already has two daughters, and is doing this partly to raise some money for them and their futures. The reward is clearly a serious matter to her: ‘In nine months as a surrogate’, adds Dr. Gupta, ‘she can earn what it would take her ten years to earn as a labourer.’
Eva takes us through a wealth of emotions as the, as it were, expectant mother: hope, dependency, doubt, suspicion, distrust, nostalgia, guilt, anger, fury, blame, grief. Gina Isaac’s is a performance that held the audience rapt, so possible was it to identify with and keep up with her shifting moods. Syreeta Kuma made a splendid foil in Dr.Gupta: advisory, supportive, but not, so runs the fear, wholly trustworthy.
She is ingratiatingly charming to new clients, but the ingratiation feels smarmy and forced. When pushed to supply detail, or to engage in a discussion, she grows edgy, irritable and downright bossy. In many ways she is right; but it shows the pitfalls that an aspiring parent must skirt in this, to Eva, relatively unknown territory.
So they skirmish, draw swords and engage in some pretty vocal tussles, heading towards downright rows. At least twice the deal is off – first Dr. Gupta says she’ll draw down the blinds, then Eva herself. Part of the skill of this play, the textual undertow, is the way these explosions are allowed to occur and the subtle (or often blunt) ways in which one is led to back down and they return to an accommodation.
The comedy when it appears is heavily ironical. When Eva, having made up with Aditi, gives her a pendant, Dr. Gupta takes it away: ‘We don’t want people thinking our surrogates are better off than they are.’ Or when she gives Eva some Indian red wine, she offers Aditi coca-cola, ‘the champagne of the masses.’ On both points, Gupta is probably right; but both seem somehow heartless. It is, after all, first and foremost a business.
Yet the delicate humanity in this play rests first and foremost with Aditi. Ulrika Krishnamurti gives a beautifully restrained performance, tender, well-intentioned, awkward, undertrained, twice a mother yet somehow still a novice, innocent and, hardly surprisingly, needing to be led.
Her display early on of puzzlement and confusion was moving in the extreme. Each part of her face seemed called into action – strained cheeks, her eyebrows, her sombre then finally smiling lips, her head itself; and her posture usually matched this.
The process of insemination, the stages of growth and finally the double birth itself was quite splendidly done, a kind of inner ballet played out with thin stretches of red, or mainly red, cloth. The moves as Aditi stood there, part concealed, suggested the pain, the forbearance, the intensity, the sheer guts and determination, the anxiety and distress of going through pregnancy.
Her exchanges with Eva becomes more positive once Aditi takes the trouble to make a start on learning English. Subsequently they can converse about Eva’s loss of her husband (paradoxically a source of some comedy), about feelings, and about money – which intermittently becomes a major issue. But as each begins to understand the other, important lessons are learned.
The inevitable emotional outburst is the final one, when Eva explodes irrationally with accusations that the clinic, Dr. Gupta, has killed the girl, the twin baby who died. It’s an acute psychological highlight of the evening. Indeed at the close, Aditi is left with the dead baby: a deeply poignant conclusion.
All of this was accompanied by some hauntingly beautiful music (by Arun Ghosh, who was also sound designer) and some highly effective lighting from Prema Mehta, to produce effects from Lydia Denno’s beguiling set, artfully moved by the cast members.
Yet where all of these, and most especially the director Katie Posner, triumphed, was in the delicacy and restraint shown throughout. This play and this production unveiled astounding sensitivity. As a result, it hit home. To 04-02-17