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Pyar Actually review at Theatre Royal Stratford East, London – ‘fun but formulaic’

Bittersweet and unapologetically populist, Pyar Actually is a gentle romcom from Rifco Studio, who specialise in developing work with a British Asian perspective. Here though, an overfamiliar plot sees a housewife’s humdrum life take a predictably passionate turn when her successful ex returns to rekindle their fizzled former romance.

Writer Sukh Ojla makes a relatable protagonist as Polly, a bolshy presence with a fine line in cringy comic awkwardness. Double cast as the softly-spoken Auntie Amarjit, she demonstrates impressive versatility, lending the older character a quiet, compassionate warmth with sharply observed mannerisms and consummately-performed physicality.

Simon Rivers’ Bali, meanwhile, personifies the usual faults of a romantic male lead.  Entitled and argumentative, he harbours a distressing secret and a hidden desire to rebuild his burned bridges. Though their relationship eventually develops a little chemistry, some hackneyed dialogue leaves their opening scenes together feeling distinctly dispassionate.

Director Pravesh Kumar keeps things moving, however, smoothly handling the play’s flashbacks and tonal shifts. Lingering on the comedy, he glosses over the emotional upheaval, ensuring the mood remains touching rather than tragic.

Jack Weir’s assured lighting saturates the stage with rich washes of cool teal and muggy nightshade blue, while the flicker of an unseen TV adds a naturalistic touch. The set, by Rebecca Brower, features tall panels clad in concrete-effect wallpaper which peels away in sections, gradually revealing a postcard view of a sunset over the sea, representing the crumbling of emotional barriers and the quite literal broadening of Polly’s horizons.

Verdict
Fun but formulaic romance that feels flat despite Sukh Ojla’s strong central performance

Production

Production
Pyar Actually
Venue
Theatre Royal Stratford East
City
London
Starts
May 15, 2018
Ends
May 19, 2018
Press night
May 15, 2018
Authors
Sukh Ojla
Director
Pravesh Kumar
Set
Rebecca Brower
Lighting
Jack Weir
Sound
Matt Eaton
Stage manager
Matt Lee Newby (assistant stage manager), Charlotte Cooper (technical stage manager)
Cast includes
Sukh Ojla, Simon Rivers
Producer
Rifco
Running time
1hr 20mins