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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Rafta, Rafta
Lyttelton Theatre      Summer-Autumn 2007

Rafta, Rafta is a modest little sentimental comedy that aims no higher than a couple of hours' entertainment and achieves its goal admirably. It has the feel and quality of a delightful low-budget movie or an exceptionally good TV show.

And that, indeed, is where its roots lie. A 1961 TV play by Bill Naughton became his 1963 stage play All In Good Time and the 1966 film The Family Way.

Each of them drew wry comedy out of the plight of North-of-England newlyweds forced by economics to live with their parents, the fear of being heard through thin walls affecting the groom's ability to rise to his marital duties.

Now Ayub Khan-Din has updated the play and made all the characters Indian, adding to the inherent situation the comic and psychological complexities of Asian family life and the clash between the self-made immigrant generation and their Westernised children.

And the translation works beautifully. Making the young couple thoroughly modern but with a real appreciation for Indian tradition, for example, helps make believable their decision to wait for their wedding night.

Meanwhile the totally unconscious macho swaggering of the groom's father makes every encounter with his son, from idle chat to arm wrestling, a challenge to the lad's manhood.

And so the central sniggering joke is embedded in a larger reality that both deepens and enriches it without spoiling the comedy.

The new title itself hints at that. The words come from an Indian love song, and their meaning - 'Slowly, slowly' - both laughs at the delay in consummation and reassures us of the love underlying it.

Rafta, Rafta is not a laugh-a-minute type of comedy. In fact, it is alternately humorous, sentimental and melodramatic, in almost equal proportions, in the mode of a Bollywood movie (All that is missing are the elaborate musical interludes).

And so, for example, when the two sets of parents discover the newlyweds' problem and meet to talk about it, the high comedy of trying to get the situation into the head of the densest among them gives way within moments to the painful recognition of failings in their own marriages.

And even the inevitable happy ending (achieved, as you might predict, when an argument gets the couple passionate enough to forget their little problem) is followed in the very final seconds of the play by a tearful revelation elsewhere.

As frequently happens in comedies of this genre, the central couple themselves are fairly bland, though Ronny Jhutti and Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi keep them both attractive and believable.

The play is dominated by the more colourful characters around them, in particular Harish Patel as the crude and clumsy but heart-of-gold father of the groom and Meera Syal as his preternaturally wise and warm wife.

Nicholas Hytner's direction wisely and skilfully plays every moment, from farce to tear-jerker, full-out, trusting the audience to keep up with the pace.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Rafta Rafta - National Theatre 2007
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