There are rich pickings to be had exploring the difficulties and contrasts between Eastern and Western lifestyles. From My Beautiful Laundrette, East Is East and of course The Kumar’s at No. 42, culture clash has added wonderfully to the tapestry of British theatre and TV. When it’s done well it works because, whilst families wish to respect their own culture, as the years pass their new homeland’s customs slowly seep in to their lives. It’s this idea of culture clash that Lekha Desai Morrison’s amusing Misfits is firmly based upon. And what is so refreshing is that she approaches it without the central character being either an overbearing or idiotic father.
Here the family are Indian. It’s the mother, Meera (Patsy Prince), who takes centre stage. She is a widow who has managed to build the family business into a successful chain, as well as creating an online dating site as a second venture. Her son, Raj (Deven Modha), runs the main activity day-to-day, with business partner Josh (Lee Farrell). Unbeknown to Meera, Raj and Josh are much more than business partners. To protect his mother’s reputation, Raj hides his sexuality, leaving her to continue pestering him for grandchildren, because “59 and no grandchildren” really isn’t right for an Indian mother: it just doesn’t look right in the community. So whilst Raj and Josh have their secret romantic get-togethers, Meera is busy trying to matchmake an arranged marriage for him. You know it is not going to go to plan though!
The culture clashes and contradictions between Indian and British culture come thick and fast. Meera’s reaction to her son finally coming out as gay is wonderful in a terrible, yet unsurprising, way; a mix of anger and denial. There’s anger in “How am I supposed to face everyone at the temple now?” and denial in “you just need to find the right girl”. This is then followed with Meera herself becoming a victim of her own culture’s misogyny, as the men in her community show disdain upon discovering she has an online dating profile. To them, it is “unbecoming of woman of her age to be looking for a new husband”, which again shows a wonderful contrast between cultures struggling to find common ground. It’s these conflicts that help the play feel at ease within its two hour (including interval) run time.
Prince’s Meera, at the heart of almost everything, as you’d expect of an Indian matriarch, is wonderfully complex, from her desire to be accepted as a successful businesswoman in her community – a community that still values men so much more than its women, to her blindness toward her son’s lack of interest in females. One moment she is a force of nature, the next she’s quietly talking to her long dead husband, seeking advice. The big problem here, though, is that none of the supporting cast feel quite as well developed, and the actors suffer for it. There feels absolutely no real chemistry between Raj and Josh, even though they are supposedly both business and sexual partners. Their scenes are stilted, as if they’re simply going through the motions; most certainly not portraying a loving couple. It’s only when Prince is present that there is a feeling of life, as she binds everything together.
Misfits is certainly an enjoyable play. It’s fun to watch this clash of cultures, especially without the usual overbearing father figure present. Above all, it is a pleasure to watch Prince as she draws every nuance from Morrison’s amusing script. With a little tightening up around her, there is no reason this couldn’t be even better though.
Written by: Lekha Desai Morrison
Directed by: Bethany Sharp
Produced by: Adam Hemming and Matthew Jameson for Space Productions
Misfits is part of The Space’s Foreword Festival. Live performances play until 3 July, and then a filmed version will be available to watch on-demand until 17 July. Full details via the below link.