August 12, 7.15 p.m.
Just married? That's wonderful. Unless you're broke. And have no option but to move back into your parents' house. As Atul Dutt and his new bride Lisa Lim quickly realise. ‘Rafta, Rafta', which opened at the National Theatre, in London in 2007, is a delightful comedy about relationships, about building bridges and tearing them down. It moved on to New York, as an Off Broadway in 2008. This version's straight from Singapore, closer home, and hence more relevant to Indian audiences than ever before.
You'll recognise Atul's father. You've met him before at countless family get-togethers — the whisky-loving, pompous, attention-seeking head of the household. Then, there's his mother, overbearing and consistently sarcastic. Add Lisa's incessantly meddlesome parents. Her father can't come to terms with the fact that his daughter's got married and moved away.
Her mother's perpetually nosy, even — or to be honest, especially — when it comes to the affairs of the bedroom. The big question is: Will this marriage survive? Happily ever-afters take work.
Written by British-Indian Ayub Khan-Din, ‘Rafta Rafta' won the Laurence Olivier award for Best New Comedy in 2008. HuM Theatre first performed the play in Singapore in May 2010. It's now in Chennai with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board. HuM Theatre is an integral part of the arts and theatre scene of Singapore. They work on bringing an Indian twist to content and form using multi-racial casts and playing to multi-racial audiences.
Rafta Rafta was inspired by Bill Naughton's 1963 play, ‘All in Good Time', premiered in London, then in New York. You adapted for Singapore. What is it about this story that enables it to change constantly, and yet maintain its soul — connecting across cultures, and time?
There is a certain global spirit and timelessness to this play. It is an exposition of how, given the right circumstances, all the kinks, all the minute engineering defects of the human character manifest themselves in the most ridiculous fashion. You can take the soul of this play and transplant it into any society, any culture, and I will bet you dollars to doughnuts, it will be reflective of that basic truth.
Have you made changes for the Indian context? What were the greatest challenges you faced in putting together this production?
Ayub Khan-Din's script is so fiendishly clever, that beyond changing a few colloquial references to give the play a Singaporean context, we really let it speak for itself. However, we did add an interesting dimension to the story by introducing a multi-racial element to it. So, it is just as much a play about Indians as it is about the Chinese. The mood of the play is about the tension that comes out of living in a congested environment with little room for privacy. The inability of a newly-married couple to get on with their lives because of constant intrusions into their space is what forms the basis for this comedy. So, the challenge was to build a set that allowed for this tension to be obvious without impeding the flow of action.
Despite being an ostensibly rollicking comedy, the play delivers a slew of serious comments on cultural differences and contemporary family life. Is it easier to edify via laughter since it tempts audiences to let their guard down?
Absolutely right. Comedy is probably the most comfortable medium to allow audiences to digest sensitive and embarrassing reflections of themselves. That's what ‘Rafta Rafta' accomplishes by being incisive, blunt and funny about the integration challenges faced by immigrants into Singapore.
Does having a multi-cultural cast and theme make the play easier for global audiences to identify with? Or, is it more challenging, requiring constant adaptation in every new venue, just to find common ground?
‘Rafta Rafta' is one of those plays that is automatically enriched by the introduction of a multi-racial cast. It grounds both the actors and the audience to the concept that we are all dysfunctional in our own ways. The common ground is universal — that we are all a part of a puny little life show, and as long as we can have a chuckle at ourselves, all will be well with the world. At the end of the day, an interesting and funny human story requires little adaptation regardless of where it is set, don't you think?