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Rafta, Rafta... (photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Marriage lines: the play's newly-weds

First night: Rafta, Rafta...

Our critic Mark Shenton applauds a new Asian version of a forgotten 60s British comedy...

The National Theatre has gone local - and refreshingly multi-cultural.

There have, of course, often been Asian actors on its stages and plays like Tartuffe have been produced there in association with the Asian company Tara Arts.

"The title translates as 'slowly, slowly', and like the couple who take their time to consummate their marriage, the play takes a while to get going..."
Mark Shenton

But this new production of Ayub Khan-Din's Rafta Rafta is a breakthrough moment, like Bombay Dreams did in the West End, in bringing contemporary Indian life to the National.

The play is, in fact, a lovely and loveable updating of a forgotten 1963 Northern comedy, All in Good Time by Bill Naughton (best known for the 1966 film Alfie starring Michael Caine in the title role, re-made in 2004 with Jude Law).

It's been relocated to a contemporary Bolton milieu, where a newly-wed Asian couple have forgone a honeymoon to begin their married life by setting up home at the groom's parents' house.

Rafta, Rafta... translates as "slowly, slowly", and like the couple who take their time to consummate their marriage, the play takes a little while to get going.

generational differences

But like the best of Alan Ayckbourn or Mike Leigh, Khan-Din is layering a portrait of his characters with sharply-defined observations so we become intimate with the intricate family dynamics that are being played out.

Meera Syal (photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Meera Syal as the groom's mother

22-year-old Atul, a cinema projectionist, is a virgin on his wedding night, and so is his bride, Vina; they are both first generation Brits of Indian-born parents.

And there are cultural as well as generational differences to contend with.

The groom is playing with a BlackBerry that his bride has given him as a present, at which his dad responds, "My father bought me a water buffalo for my wedding. I didn't sit there milking it all night long!"

Ayub-Din's play, so freshly fashioned from Naughton's original, milks the comedy for all its worth.

And, as brought to teaming, gleaming life by director Nicholas Hytner, it is beautifully played by a cast that includes Bollywood actor Harish Patel as the father of the groom (who is sweetly played by Ronny Jhutti) and Meera Syal as the groom's mother.

Rafta, Rafta... is at the National Theatre, Lyttelton, South Bank SE1. Tickets: 10 - 39.50. Box office: 020 7452 3000. Booking to 23 June.

last updated: 27/04/07
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faye
loved it amazing ! meera syal was the best by far my idol forever love you meera x

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