Theatre Review: In a Gender-Flipped Revival, ‘Company’ Loves Misery
Whether it is Trevor Nunn’s George Bernard Shaw’s anti-establishment satire or Edward Albee’s anguished horror, MR James has much to teach us about self-destructive impulses and willfully exasperating habits. Here is the Welsh language version of his Dervish Society play, In a Gender-Flipped Revival.
Bhanu Sharma as Ezra Mistry with Umesh-Sharmaas. Photograph: Marina Devitt
It is a performance where the English version runs out. Imbued with existential anguish and echoing even the stage directions, the new version is much less palatable than the original. Both Dervish Society works in The Still Life of the Ancient Sun, a short story collection. As Ezra Mistry, Bhanu Sharma is a frail man with bad eyesight. He is separated from his wife, Rupa Akki, at the start of the play, and changes his mood and expression to convey deep personal, physical and emotional anguish.
Abhinaya Mahadevan is superb as Rupa. Facing her husband’s increasing depression, she is not passive, but courageous and determined. Though he dreams of his happier world, she thinks of wanting to leave her husband. After Ezra’s wife dies in childbirth, she takes an overdose. But this appears to be a feigned suicide, perhaps motivated by jealousy. She reappears in company with Ezra, and she appears very, very tired.
Emily Carford-Garraway as Auli’i Coleman, left, and Taneja Ferring. Photograph: Marina Devitt
Auli’i Coleman is an extraordinarily beguiling character, a Tamil American who visits the Mistry home in India, accompanied by a (completely excellent) Irish woman, Ardal O’Hanlon, who is Ezra’s lover. Marissen Bennett gives a ferocious performance as the riven and irrational ex-wife who wants to take her life.
With its theatrical variety and crisp, noisy language, JM’s Dervish Society works in quite a different way to the monochrome English companies that James wrote about.
In most productions of Dervish Society, the audience listen through headphones. In this production they sing, or they don chairs or tables, to accompany the audience as they sing along. It’s an attractive idea, I think, that extends the play’s musical possibilities.