The man at the Royal Court bookshop was in a chatty mood tonight and engaged me and the woman who was buying a programme at the same time as me in conversation about the show we were about to see (the larger Downstairs theatre is between shows so it's quieter there than usual.) I mentioned that everyone I know who's seen both plays says Anupama Chandrasekhar's Disconnect
is the better play compared to the show that's just finished Downstairs, Off The Endz
. The bookshop man was a bit more diplomatic but said that tonight's show was more low-key but steadily builds up. I'd say that's fair enough.
Set in a call centre in Chennai, three young people work through the night trying to get people in Illinois to pay their outstanding credit card debt. Giri/Gary (Neet Mohan) is a bit flash and works non-stop for his bonus so he can pay for new outfits; Vidya/Vicky (Ayesha Dharker) has ambitions of becoming the group's next supervisor; and Roshan/Ross (Nikesh Patel) is the top "collector" but has a habit of getting too close to the people on the other end of the line. Their supervisor Avinash (Paul Bhattacharjee) has recently been demoted from the New York office (actually a different floor in the same building) and is under pressure to improve figures in "Illinois." As we follow these characters their confident facades start to crack: Giri ends up running up his own credit card debts; Vidya's strict adherence to the rulebook may have led to a debtor's suicide; and most seriously Ross' "friendship" with a young female debtor starts to turn into something unhealthy.
Inevitably the theme of debt (John Napier's set is a white box made to look as if it's made of papier-mâché, in turn made of overdue credit card bills) brings up some issues about the current global financial situation but Chandrasekhar's main theme, and very subtly worked into the story, is a cultural one, as the main trio have been pretending to be American for so long that they're almost starting to think they really are, leading to the question of just how Indian they are any more. Vidya has issues with the colour of her skin, while Ross (don't dare call him Roshan) keeps his American accent even when not working, and is so enamoured with the idea of a blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend that he all-but-imagines one. There's a lot of great humour along the way but tension does build up almost without you noticing it until you really care about the outcome of the fraught final scenes. Indhu Rubasingham's production is tight and well-acted. Of course I've mentioned before I rather fancy Neet Mohan and he's still a fittie here (although more so once his character marginally tones down his spivvy dress sense) albeit looking a bit tiny next to Nikesh Patel (also a bit hot, not to mention impressive in his professional acting debut.) Overall a great start to the year's season for the Theatre Upstairs.Disconnect
by Anupama Chandrasekhar is booking until the 20th of March at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. A version of the production will later tour in the Royal Court's "Theatre Local" season.