Pros: Approachable characters and outrageous situations during the speed-dating scenes.
Cons: Don’t expect happy endings all around.
Speed is a romantic comedy in which we get to know the five characters, Sara, Sammy, Qal, Shalini and Nikesh, their romantic background and what they hope to find in an evening of dating complete strangers for a couple of minutes. All of this is done by means of speed dating scenarios and comes as part of the Talkback Festival 2013.
We are in Tristan Bates theatre, the downstairs performing space inside the Actors Centre in Soho. The room is painted black, in black box fashion with the chairs arranged to face the only wall with color in the room, plastered from top to bottom with photographs. Some of these are well known, like Miley Cyrus pulling out her tongue and others less so. There are three tables on stage, the first to the left next to the door that the performers will make their entrance is completely filled with bottles and glasses of alcohol. The other two are placed in the centre and back of the room, this is where the cast will take turns sitting to act out the speed-dating scenes, with an orange light placing one of the tables in the spotlight as they talk and get to know each other.
The play starts and the cast rush onto stage. They look at each other awkwardly, each one portraying different emotions at the situation they find themselves in. Shalini, played by Joanna Burnett, Tariq Jordan as Qal, Goldy Notay as Sara, Jai Rajani portraying Nikesh and Divian Ladwa as Sammy. Using a combination of reflective monologues, in which the characters open up to the audience about their previous relationships, the dating scenes at the tables the characters come alive. In doing this the play transitions from cheesy rom-com to a story about people, religion and a study on gender and sexuality.
Shalini is an aspiring writer from a modest background, who until that evening had been on a relationship with a wealthy Oxford graduate. Angrily, she explains he broke it off because he wasn’t ‘poor enough for her’; their economic clash drove them apart. Sara, a sexy and confident MTV executive wants to break the cycle of chasing after powerful older men, who are usually married. Nikesh is speed dating to celebrate the first anniversary of his break-up, after his fiancée-to-be left him. Egotistic Qal likes the thrill of the chase, and finally Sammy, who is there in hopes of having his first kiss with a girl.
I’m not one for romantic comedies, but as I mentioned above, this isn’t the usual lovey-dovey story where the guy gets the girl in the end. There is depth and realism to the situations, the characters and plot. It was very interesting to find the layers, and so much fun at the same time watching the outrageous situations they find themselves in during the speed-date.
The acting was terrific to watch too, they delivered humour whilst still building the character profiles that give relevance to the play. Burnett was punchy and intense as her character is going through the anger phase of relationship break up. Rajani gives us an insightful and insecure Nikesh and Ladwa as transsexual Sammy, is a tender soul with surprising charisma.
Speed is essentially a comedy about people. It displays our ability to heal one another, and the surprising things we might discover about ourselves when talking to complete strangers. Themes of culture, sexuality and gender are all intertwined too. All this goes on in Tristan Bates, a venue at the heart of the West End, without the intimidating prices of bigger theatres but with the quality of acting, writing and directing you’d expect from a West End venue.
Author: Iman Qureshi
Director: Poonam Brah
Booking Until: 5th December 2013
More Information: www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk