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Handful of Henna review at Watermans Brentford

Rani Moorthy’s play first opened at the Crucible as its contribution to a Sheffield Children’s Festival. But this accessible touring revival by Karen Simpson carries strong echoes of the director’s past work with Theatre in Education.

A South Asian woman living in Britain has dragged her unwilling teenage daughter back to her homeland village in the midst of a monsoon to meet her female relatives and to come to terms with her own troubled upbringing by a cruel stepmother.

An atmospheric opening as the family meets in an air terminal soon gives way to a series of imaginative leaps from the humdrum present to amusing re-enactments of past events, culminating in the moment when she attacks and destroys a wooden puppet that symbolises her childhood tormentor.

But if the underlying intention of the plot is to mark a steady reconciliation between the mother and her sullen, British-born daughter, there is also a tantalising suggestion that the girl may soon be faced with an arranged marriage.

Perhaps this was the author’s original intention and much of the second half, adorned with colourful clothes and dazzling textiles, hints at wedding preparations. But the mood suddenly changes as the cast of four goes into a Mamma Mia-like song and dance closer with Jon Nicholls’ title number, a tuneful tribute to henna’s magical healing powers.

It seems invidious to pick out one performance but Nimmi Harasgama gives a deliciously witty portrayal of a maiden aunt, from youth to old age, one that could be a showcase for her own upcoming solo with Tamasha.

Production Information

Watermans, Brentford, January 23-30, touring until May 29

Rani Moorthy
Karen Simpson
Rasa with Oxfordshire Theatre Company
Nimmi Harasgama, Sohm Kapila, Bharti Patel, Rochi Rampal
Running time
1hr 15mins

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