Sydney review - A Passage to India: a mighty epic tale
By Paul Kiely
Photos by Craig O'Regan
A passage to India
By E M Forster
Adapted by Martin Sherman
Directed by Mark G Nagle
An amateur production by arrangement with ORiGiN Theatrical on behalf of Samuel French Ltd
Season: 15 May – 19 June 2021. Bookings: www.genesiantheatre.com.au Duration: 150 minutes plus interval
E M Forster’s A Passage to India is a mighty epic tale set in the politically turbulent British colonial India of the 1920’s. To adapt it to the stage is an equally mighty undertaking. To their credit, the Genesian Theatre has delivered an engrossing production of Martin Sherman’s adaptation of the classic novel.
Much of the success of this performance belongs to the Director, Mark G Nagle. Utilising the talents of cast and crew and his own artistic, creative and administrative abilities, Mark takes the audience on a literal ‘journey’. With smart staging, lighting, sound and period costume, colonial India sits before us; our senses heightened by the music, accents, incense and visual pictures presented to us.
The story has the depth and complexity of India itself. Mrs Moore is visiting her son Ronny Heaslop, the British magistrate in the region of Chandrapore. Accompanying her is Miss Adela Quested, a schoolteacher who may or may not be intending to marry Ronny. She has not made her mind up yet.
Both ladies are keen to see authentic India, not the British version of it. Ronny observes “I can only see the real India by seeing Indians”. In a chance meeting at a local mosque, Mrs Moore encounters Dr Aziz, a young doctor keen to show off the great natural sites that India has to offer. A visit to the Marabar Caves is organised. Only a day trip, Aziz, Mrs Moore and Adele set off on train, elephant and foot.
The mystique of the caves is somewhat haunting and by day’s end, Aziz is arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting Adele. The lead up to the ensuing trial brings a whole swathe of characters. Personal loyalties and friendships are tested, as is the trust towards the British by Aziz.
With a great script and divergent plot lines, themes of imperialism, racism and sexism are prevalent. There is an understanding of the rise of the Indian independence movement. On several occasions, the British characters are pestered by wasps; Forster’s foresight is uncanny as the ‘White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants’ are symbolically told to leave this country. “The white races are really pink and grey” says Cyril Fielding, the Headmaster of a nearby college.
Throughout the story, one character remains a constant: Professor Narayan Godbole. Often talking as a narrator, his wisdom and insightful comments on the Indian colonial predicament and mindset bring much humour.
There is a huge cast in A Passage to India, 19 in fact. Special mention to Gaurav Kharbanda (Prof. Narayan Godbole), Atharv Kolhatkar (Dr Aziz Ahmed), Miles Boland (Cyril Fielding), Susan Jordan (Mrs Moore), Christiane New (Adela Quested), Simon Lee (Ronny Heaslop) and Douglas Spafford (Harry Turton).
The devil in the production is the performance duration. After 150 minutes plus interval, we made our passage to the exit. But the epic story, outstanding acting and presentation was well worth the wait. As Dr Aziz joyfully reflected, “What does unhappiness matter when we’re all unhappy together”.
A Passage to India at the Genesian is absorbing theatre. Highly recommended.