>dance like a man by primetime theatre / teamwork productions

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 25 jul 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Those dreadful Greek masks that stare off the covers of too many books on theatre insist on the strict division of drama between comedy and tragedy. Every so often, a play comes along that refuses to acknowledge these distinct categories, allowing the tragic and the comic to bleed into each other so that you are never sure whether to laugh or cry - rather like in real life.

DANCE LIKE A MAN is such a play. It follows a family of Bharatnatyam dancers from the fifties to the nineties, opening in the modern day with daughter Lata bringing her fiance Viswas home to meet the folks, Jairaj and Ratna. This opening scene is stuffed with exposition ("I am the sole heir to this property, which is worth...") and plotting as clunky as a Whitehall farce. When Viswas launches into an unflattering impression of Lata's grandfather, you know her parents are going to come in and catch him at it.

What makes this scene more than just an Indian 'Meet the Parents' is the intimations of doom that underpin the brisk comedy. The tragic overtones come into their own in the next scene, a flashback to post-independence India. In a well-managed transition the actors swap costumes so the young couple now play Lata's parents, forty years back, and Lata's "a-pa" morphs into his own tyrannical father.

>>'DANCE LIKE A MAN is a triumph for English-language Indian

It is in this interplay of past and present that the play truly shines. Schematically it resembles Tom Stoppard's 'Arcadia', though it is less infuriatingly symmetrical. Jairaj and Ratna, in embittered old age, are all the more engaging as characters because we have seen the tragedy in their youth which has left fault lines running through their entire lives. The backdrop to all this is an antique-filled mansion - an elegant design by Pradeep Sarkar - that remains unchanged for the flashbacks, emphasising the transience of human lives.

Makesh Dattam's powerful script has its longeurs, draggy passages about India's political situations which are, frankly, unnecessary to the action and slow down the pace of the play. It is otherwise a realistic exploration of family dynamics, and also very Indian. The odd obscure cultural reference ("You don't have tea in the house? Then you must be South Indian.") didn't seem to prevent the local audience from enjoying it.

Suchrita Pillai and Joy Sengupta are pleasant enough as the young couple, although they take some time to settle into their roles, but they get completely acted off the stage by veterans Lillete Dubey and Vijay Crishna. Dubey, who also directs, is magnificent, striding about the stage like an unstoppable force of nature, although Crishna's slow burning portrayal of a broken man is ultimately more rewarding.

All four actors veer dangerously close to being over the top, but this actually suits the epic mode of the play. Towards the end we seem to be in Hindi-movie land, what with the dramatic music and extravagant emoting. Extraordinarily, this plunge into full-on melodrama without a trace of irony manages to be deeply moving - a pleasant note in these cynical times. By the end of the play half the characters are dead and the family mansion demolished; by the last monologue, with its harrowing mixture of optimism and loss, we feel we have travelled a long way indeed.

DANCE LIKE A MAN is a triumph for English-language Indian theatre. Its script needs editing, and the direction could be a notch sharper, but these rough edges do not obscure the sheer transforming force of dramatic emotion that is so rare in the theatre these days.