Despite a familiar plot and some average performances, ‘Whose Wife Is She Anyway’ ensured the audience had a good time

It looks like the bedroom farce will never go out of fashion. Just like that good old desi British accent, complete with the requisite stiff collar and upper lip.

The Madras Players in association with Theatre Impresario recently staged ‘Whose Wife Is She Anyway,' a play inspired by the early 20th Century farce, The Lady From Maxim's. The format was unapologetically old school, conjuring up the ghosts of a hundred other similar plays staged in the city. Yet, despite patchy acting and the weaknesses of the script, it was light, frothy and fun. Partly because it was so comfortingly familiar. Chiefly because the whole effort was endearingly earnest.

Refreshingly, director V. Balakrishnan did not limit himself — and his cast — to a mere cut and paste job. Neither did he simply ‘Indianise’, in that over simplified way everyone from directors to pizza makers use in order to connect to the local market.

In his director's note, he says he's been inspired by Chama-Chameli directed by Barry John, from whom he adopted the play's ‘ecstatic chair’. Now this chair, which sends its occupant into a delighted trance, is admittedly ludicrously anachronistic. After all, the plot — despite bristling with improbabilities — is set in the everyday world of a young doctor's life. A world where a chair with magical powers stands out like a masseur at a doctor's convention.

Nevertheless, theatre of this sort involves a suspension of disbelief — and we obliged. Which worked out well. For the play turned out to be delightfully silly — a relief in this age of self-important, morbidly dark experimental theatre.

Easy to follow, this production flirted with being risqué without actually breaking with convention. Despite being amateur, the actors were sincere enough to make their roles reasonably believable. Admittedly, there was some huffing, puffing and cases of marbles-in-the-mouth syndrome. The stage also looked like it had been raided by the Lehman Brothers: stark, plain and a little sad.

Nevertheless, the story braved bounced to a wedding in Meerut complete with a vivacious dance number. Ironically it's femme fatale, bar dancer Chandini (Sunandha Raghunathan ) turned out to be as stiff as R2D2 when it came to shimmying and shaking. However, she made up for it by being a bundle of cheery energy. While the central character Chetan Chauhan (Amitash Pradhan) and his wife Anjali Chauhan (Nandini Krishnan) took a while to warm up, they were comfortably convincing once they got going. General Prithviraj Chauhan (S. Radhakrishnan) was loud, bluff and unshakably British.

Sushonto Mukerjee (Siddanth Venkatesh) playing Chetan's long-suffering best friend and Bahadur, as his excitable watchman, added zest to the performance. Their characters might have been written as sidelights, but both managed to hijack a good part of the show.

Yes, this was unmistakably amateur theatre. There were sections that felt flat, and the acting was perceptibly shaky here and there. Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed themselves, and — appropriately enough so did the cast. It's good to see theatre groups working together in this city. Besides enabling the sharing of ideas, actors and stories, the process also draws a mixed audience, moving beyond cliques and caches.

As they say, ‘a good time was had by all.' Which is all that matters, right?