The Perfume Garden (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review

Family, cultural heritage, religious observance and aspiration are the focus of The Perfume Garden. This reworked comedy was first performed a decade ago. Now, colourful Bollywood dance numbers – nine in all – have been added to the mix.

Six beautifully adorned sari-clad women are joined by a beaming and elegant man. The women first appear in a dream sequence, as the male centerpiece of the production imagines himself in an episode of television’s The Bachelor.

The Perfume Garden explores some of multiculturalism’s absurdities. Chitra (Laura Lattuada) and Satya (Vishwajeet Pradhan) run a suburban spice shop. They want nothing more than to see their grown son Anand (a role filled by playwright and producer Rajendra Moodley) settle down, get married and take over the family business. Anand’s life appears to be going nowhere. He is a writer and actor whose career has failed to take off. He’s moved back home with his parents. His father arranged the first meeting with his now-girlfriend, Devi (Sacha Joseph).

The play opens on their “proposal day” (the first part of an Indian wedding). But Anand is reluctant to set a date for the engagement, let alone the wedding. His folks are concerned that like the distant relative for whom they’re caring – 80-year-old stroke victim, Ayah (Khema De Silva) – time is running out for Anand.

While the play has been crafted primarily with fun in mind and features some ribald scenes, it also contains elements of drama and magic. The Perfume Garden didn’t start to really resonate with me until well into the first act. That’s when the seemingly mute, wheelchair-bound Ayah suddenly came to life, courtesy of a spell. She is arguably the best character in the show and De Silva takes full advantage of the pointed lines with which she has to work.

Overall though, I struggled to find the cohesion I was looking for in the plotting. Also, notwithstanding the strength of the dialogue, I thought some of the acting appeared contrived and lacking in polish.

Still, though The Perfume Garden, directed by Paul Watson, would probably benefit from further work, it is not devoid of enjoyable sequences. Two hour-long acts are punctuated by a 20-minute interval. It is playing at Chapel off Chapel until 13 August 2017.

Alex First

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One comment

  1. I feel the script needs editing down. Very complicated and overwritten. But I must say, I felt the acting was spot on and so too the direction and I enjoyed it. The program talked about blending Bollywood style into the play and I think that is intrinsically broader and more melodramatic than we are used to here in Melbourne. Wonderful to see a play told about multicultural Melbourne, using two cultural theatrical styles to do so.

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