Indian Ink

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Criticising Tom Stoppard feels like committing literary sacrilege. That said, Indian Ink is not one of his finest plays, despite attempts in this production to enliven it. Indian Ink has two interlinked storylines. In one plot strand, wild-child Flora Crewe (Anna Popplewell) travels to 1930s India and has her portrait painted by charismatic Indian artist Nirad Das (Saatvic Saattvic). Sexual tension simmers between the pair whilst ideas of empire, exploitation and cultural erosion are investigated. The second setting is 1980s England where Flora has achieved a posthumous reputation as a poet. Academic Eldon Pike (Omar El-Okdah) visits Flora’s genteel sister Mrs Swan (Hannah Ilett) in scenes which have comic potential, but often fall flat. Ilett delivers her lines with dry wit, but one cannot help feeling her statement ‘I could make a point about human nature, but have a slice of battenberg instead’ rings rather too true. However, colonial buffoon David Durance (Ronald Singer-Kingsmith) is played well, and Popplewell and Saatvic respond engagingly to the more overtly comic scenes. This production seems unbalanced – the Indian scenes with Popplewell and Saattvic are brilliant but are let down by the limpness of the English parts of the play. It was originally written for the radio, which may explain the occasional stodginess. The production could have done more to bring scenes to life, particularly the conversations between Mrs Swan and Anish Das (Viral Thakerar). At one point, Das talks about ‘rasa’ – the creative juice and essence of great art. This production shows a distinct lack of ‘rasa’. Whilst Popplewell, Saattvic and Ilett give especially good performances, the dialogue in general is lightly pleasing rather than truly emotionally engaging. Indian Ink is quite funny, not hilarious; quite clever, but not demandingly so. Dialogue shows everything that we expect from Stoppard – witty wordplay and mild philosophising – but does not manage to move or amuse as effectively as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Arcadia. By Elisabeth Lewis-Barned

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