. Pic Chris Lundie
Neel Banerjee, Ambika Asthana, Lucy Rasheed and James Herrington
in INDIAN EMBRACE. Pic Chris Lundie

Carol Dance has written an entertaining play about three Australian siblings having a family reunion in Varanasi, India, their mother’s dying wish, and their interaction with the Indian family running the guesthouse where they stay. This scenario allows an interesting look the differences and similarities between Indian and Western families, philosophies, societies, and cultures.

As any westerner who has visited India knows the country is overwhelming and this is captured in the play and woven into the story. This is captured in the narrative and balanced with the changes in modern Indian society and melded with the very interesting dramas of two families.

Vikram Singh, played wonderfully by Shashidhar Dandekar, runs the guesthouse and has a strong relationship with John (Steven Menteith), a long term frequent guest at the hotel. John has not visited his Australian home for many years. The youngest son, family man Chris (James Herrington), has arranged the reunion by bringing their sister Pamela (Lucy Rasheed), the high flying businesswoman sister from New York to Varanasi.

Vikram’s son, Ashwin (Neel Banerjee) is in the army and is mostly absent. His wife, Roopa, (Ambika Asthana) assists in the running of the guesthouse and has ideas to rescue it from its faded grandeur and modernise their practises. Vikram is more in favour of maintaining traditions. Roopa and Ashwin want to immigrate to Australia. Roopa is the character that links the themes explored in the play of traditional and modern values, Eastern and Western concepts and male and female roles. Ambika superbly performs this role with realism, humour and spirit.

These themes are also looked at from John’s perspective, as an aid worker, and Pamela’s role in managing a call centre in Varanasi for the company she works for in New York. What will benefit the poor and oppressed of India better? Will it be aid projects or jobs brought in by international businesses? This philosophical conflict is reflected in the well played out family squabbles of the Australian family. The different approaches of East and West are reflected in Pamela’s attempts to manage Sanjay (Neel Banerjee again), the call centre’s incompetent but very agreeable local manager.

Director Lenore Robertson has nicely brought together this production. A fairly simple set is brilliantly enhanced by projected images of Varanasi, the night sky, sunrise and Indian motifs. Richard Neville’s lighting design is a highlight of the play.

A weakness in this current production is that whilst the Indian actors have a good handle on their characters, this is not the case with the three Anglo Saxon actors who fail to fully realise their characters.

Steven Menteith has an awkward aloofness and does not engage with the audience. Lucy Rasheed plays the sister well but is not convincing as a international businesswoman. James Herrington is believable as the Aussie family guy confronted by India’s squalor and in his charming encounters with Roopa, however he does not capture the right tone or emotion outside this framework.

The Nautanki Theatre Company’s premiere production of Carol Dance’s INDIAN EMBRACE played the Lennox Theatre, Parramatta Riverside Theatres between August 21 and 25, 2013.