Book by E.M. Forster, adapted by Martin Sherman, directed by Mark G. Nagle
In this production, based on E.M. Forster’s classic novel, we meet Miss Adela Quested (Christiane New) and her soon-to-be Mother-in-Law, Mrs Moore (Susan Jordan) as they venture to Chandrapore, India to meet with Moore’s son and Adela’s fiancé Mr Ronny Heaslop (Simon Lee) as they head towards their pending nuptials. Things go badly after a trip to a local cave and through this one harmless event Forster exposes the absurdity, hysteria, and depth of cultural ignorance that existed in British India in the twenties. This version of the novel is faithfully brought to the stage by Martin Sherman.
The mood is set as soon as you walk into the converted church and the exotic incense wafts by as are instantly greeted with glorious silk saris. Boasting a cast of 20, A Passage to India requires some tricky staging, as it takes the audience from England To India. Brilliantly conceived by Mark. G Nagle and Emma Whitehead, their artistic vision brought to life these very different worlds.
Staging in this production was largely symbolic: simple props and set pieces, it was quite easy for an audience to understand for the most part.
The novelist was clearly struck by the way the English treated both India and its people. “I am told we all get rude after a year”, Miss Adela Quested tells us as she is concerned to be a kind and respectful immigrant to India, an Anglo-Indian. The English, however, maintain their own culture and customs in India and do not attempt to assimilate to their new country. The opening scene, a portrait of the English as they set out on the Passage to India, was an effective way to bring the audience into the cultural divide between the button-down English and the colorful vibrancy of the Indian locals.
In Genesian Theatre Company’s production, the English are portrayed as entitled, self-righteous imperialists and the precarious and uneasy relationship between India and England is always present throughout the play. The relationships between the characters serve to highlight these cultural rifts and the play presents multiple relationships of people caught between cultures.
All of the actors played their roles with energy, confidence and subtlety and it was impossible not to be drawn in by their performances.
Prof Godbole (played perfectly by Gaurav Kharbanda) acts almost as a narrator and as soon as he begins, he takes us straight to India and continues to keep the audience engaged with direct storytelling in a compelling voice. He is almost like The Fool in King Lear, he knows more than everyone but he speaks in riddles, posing questions without giving the answers. After the interval he brought the distracted audience straight back into the world of the show.
Dr Aziz Ahmed was brilliantly played by Atharv Kolhatkar as he flawlessly swings between comic acting and heart-breaking dramatic acting.
Susan Jordan as Mrs Moore and Christiane New as Miss Adela Quested brought a naturalism and ease to their portrayals of English women navigating their way in a land that is alien to them. The two female leads were chilling and brilliant in their roles: robust, delicate, symbolic.
Simon Lee played Mr Ronny Heaslop flawlessly as an Englishman trying to create an English life for himself in India.
Powerful performances from James Fraser Moir as Mr McBryde and Taufeeq Ahmed Sheikh as Mahmoud Ali helped to pick up the pace of the second half of the play.
The background actors provided a rich colour to the production and created some very effective transitions between scenes. This production would have been far less visually spectacular without the dedication and creativity of the background actors.
The ending was perfect and powerful, a damning statement on British colonialism both by E.M. Forster and director Mark. G. Nagle. “I want you to clear out!” Dr. Aziz tells Mr Fielding as their relationship comes to a head, stating in no uncertain terms that friendship is not possible between them while the English are in India. The chemistry between the two actors in these roles was a delight to watch.
A Passage to India‘s costumes and set are beautiful and the simple stage effects work surprisingly well as the actors use props and their bodies to create cars and and even an elephant. The lighting design was subtle and served to highlight and compliment the actor’s performances and gave a compelling edge to the static scenes that dwell within the play. The neutral, simplistic palette of the costumes sat effortlessly against the colourful backdrop.
It is very important time in history to enjoy this special production. There is a lovely moment in the play that brought to mind the suffering in India right at this moment: “Indians need kindness and more kindness”.
A Passage to India is currently playing in Sydney from 15th May – 19th June 2021. Friday and Saturday nights at 7.30pm, Sunday matinée at 4.30pm. Running Time: Three hours including a 20 min interval.
Director Mark G. Nagle
Assistant Director Emma Whitehead
Set Design Mark G. Nagle
Costume Design Andrea Tan, Mark G. Nagle
Lighting Design Sarah Gooda, Michael Schell
Sound Design Jaymes Julian Wilson, Vishal Shah, Mark G. Nagle
Stage Manager Marica Fumanti, Owen L. Hirschfeld
Lighting and Sound Operation Charlotte Launay, Amy Roberts, Sangeeta Tandon
Fielding Miles Boland
Taufeeq Ahmed Sheikh
James Fraser Moir
Owen L. Hirschfeld
About the author
Katie Allen is a writer, actor, voice artist and theatre-lover from Wollongong. She studied writing and journalism as part of her BA from Southern Cross University and she is immersed in the local community theatre scene.