Hackney Citizen

Calcutta Kosher – review

Award-winning writer brings play about an Iraqi Jewish family to the Arcola as part of festival of contemporary plays by South Asian women

Calcutta Kosher

Last chance to see: Calcutta Kosher

This absorbing and funny family drama, now showing at the Arcola, is part of the Kali Talkback Festival celebrating contemporary writing by South Asian women.

Set in the Baghdadi Jewish community of Calcutta, two grown-up daughters return from overseas to visit their elderly mother, who has just had a heart attack and may have only a short time to live. Esther (Harvey Virdi, Brick Lane and Bend it Like Beckham) just arrived from London and identifiable by her “boring clothes”, is “more English than the English”, while cocaine-snorting Sylvie, crashing noisily in from LA, has turned into an “American nightmare”.

When their mother (Jane Lowe) makes an unexpected revelation, the family is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths.

There are some superb performances: Rina Mahoney is moving as the quiet but passionate Maki, but it’s Sylvie, played by the show-stealing Shelley King, who has the best lines, delivered with perfect comic timing. “Still drinking?” asks Esther. “Still nagging?” she replies.

It’s a play about alienation and distance, loneliness and belonging, duty and desire. It’s also about the complexity of family life, with all its secrets and contradictions, tenderness and cruelty. Its one weakness, though, is that the characters seem to lapse into stereotype: the brash, loud American, the emotionally repressed English woman and the dutiful, stay-at-home Hindu daughter.

Otherwise this is a great script from the award-winning Shelley Silas, who herself originates from the Iraqi Jewish community of Calcutta and who wrote the play as a means of answering people’s questions about her heritage and “to keep our history and culture alive.”

Calcutta Kosher
Until 22 December 2012
Arcola Theatre
Dalston

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