Saturday, July 15, 2017

Theatre: Biryani (★★★½)

Directed by Jay Emmanuel
Performed by Kali Srinivasan
Music by Tao Issaro
Upper Burt Hall
Until July 15

Bread is the staff of life, music is the food of life, and food, and the cooking of it, loves the stage.
Whether it’s Amanda Muggleton knocking egg & chips together in Shirley Valentine, Georgia King baking cakes in Scent Tales or, tastiest of all, the cast of The Gabriels preparing three family meals during that marathon, wonderful trilogy, there’s something about the experience of cooking that dovetails with the experience of theatre.
Never more so than in Biryani, a delicious little show about Indian lives and life choices that revolves around the preparation, cooking and – happily – consumption of the food of that great culinary nation.

As its title suggests, the ubiquitous rice and spice dish biryani is the main course of the feast prepared by the visiting Indian actor Kali Srinivasan, who starred in Jacques Audiard’s 2015 Palm d’or winner, Dheepan.
While she cooks, Srinivasan tells the life stories of Indian women, their joys, cares and sorrows, all bound up in the dishes they prepare – rasam tamarind soup, idli lentil hot cakes, sambar vegetable stew and bhaji fritters.
Srinivasan is a lively, expressive actor, and she tells these stories of children, spouses and parents, loyalty and infidelity, staying put and leaving, with energy and, using only the smallest changes of costume – a headpiece here, a sari there – distinctive characterisation.
The setting – a draped tent, the soft piano (rather in the style of Keith Jarrett) of Tao Issaro – the sweet tea, the blessings of the unseen Gods, Krishna and Ganesh, the great, unfinishable platters of rice and chicken at interval, made for a warm, warmly satisfying, evening.
And when we snuck shyly up for a forkful of the biryani that Srinivasan had cooked through the performance, and took in the spices and chillis, the heat and the flavour of that enormous triangle of humankind over our shared ocean, it was something more than just that.

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