NE cannot be friends [...]; REVIEW: THEATRE A Passage to India Liverpool Playhouse.
Byline: LORNA HUGHES ECHO Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org @lorna_hughes
'ONE cannot be friends with the EnglishAziz is warned.
'O He ignores the advice, setting in motion the central twists and turns of this bold, atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of EM Forster's acclaimed novel.
Forster's masterpiece is set in a colonial India ruled by the British and examines whether true friendship (particularly the intense connection between Englishman Fielding and Indian Dr Aziz) is possible in a world so divided by entrenched beliefs about power and religion.
Into this heady mix is thrown upper-class Adela Quested (Phoebe Pryce) and Mrs Moore, mother of city magistrate Ronny, her potential future husband.
The women want to break free from suffocating colonial club life and experience the real India and embark on a hike led by Aziz.
Their trip ends in disaster in the mysterious, mesmerising muddle of the Marabar caves and the resulting court case pitches the two cultures against each other.
Edward Killingback The characters are simply drawn for the stage - and aficionados of the book might grumble a little - leaving us with narrow-minded Ronny's casual racism, Fielding's kindness and a sensible, naive Adela.
It's a clever decision to have some acting as narrators at various points, pointing to the deeper feelings behind the action.
Stage decor, too, is kept to a minimum while evoking the sights and sounds of India.
The ensemble - supported by Prema Mehta's lighting and Indian music performed on stage - conjures up courthouses, temples and caves with just a few props.
It's brilliantly staged, with drapes and actors in a huddle magically conjuring up an elephant, while wooden sticks create a steam train.
The claustrophobia and confusion of the Marabar caves, too, is evoked through an unsettling wall of sound from the company and the ever-shifting movements of poles.
On stage, the conclusion of the court case feels it should be the natural end point for the story. It comes early in the second act, leaving what feels like an overly drawn-out exploration of whether Fielding (accompanied by the shadowy figure of his new wife) and Aziz can still be friends.
There are strong performances from Asif Khan as an exuberant and free-spiritedturned betrayed and bitter Dr Aziz, Liz Crowther as mystical Mrs Moore and Richard Goulding as the independentminded Fielding.
Divisions and tensions are everywhere in the story - between the Indian population and the Anglo-Indians, between the expats who want to bridge the divide and those who see Indians as untrustworthy, and between Muslim and Hindu Indians.
The thought-provoking and absorbing production offers no easy answers, but portrays uncomfortable truths about tolerance that still resonate today.
Edward Killingback (Ronny) and Phoebe Pryce (Adela)
A Passage to India - from left, Tibu Fortes, Richard Goulding, Asif Khan and Maanuv Thiara Picture: IDIL SUKAN