Vivienne Kennedy tries to pick a side in this tale of cultural and generational differences (with a tasty extra!)

A Brimful of Asha

“Thank you so much for coming. Say hello to my mum won’t you, and do help yourself to a samosa.”

It’s not every show that begins with the cast greeting members of the audience individually, offering each person a smile, handshake, and tasty snack; but perhaps more theatre companies should consider it, because it certainly worked very well as an ice-breaker last night.

Ravi Jain and his mother Asha have travelled all the way from Canada to Bristol, not to perform a play, but to tell a true story, debate their differences, and each try to get the audience on their side.

Asha is Indian and proud of her culture and its traditions; her son is Canadian and wants to do things his way. Their clashes are generational and cultural. She doesn’t get acting as a career choice, and he doesn’t get the whole arranged marriage thing. She says she’s not an actress, just a dedicated housewife and abused mother; he smiles in a way that tells you he’s heard it all before. 

Ravi isn’t against getting married, but he wants to do it in his own time with a bride of his own choosing. Asha wants him to marry someone from India; she is worried that when she and his father are gone he will have no connection to their homeland.

The parent trap

The story they tell is a decade old. Ravi has returned to Canada having been working and studying abroad. He is setting up his own theatre company. His parents have decided it’s time for him to marry and, although they have agreed to give him two years’ grace, when he tells them he’s going to India to deliver some acting workshops they see it as the perfect opportunity to begin introducing him to prospective brides. They take it in turns to talk, but frequently interrupt to contradict each other.

I found it interesting to listen to a debate for and against arranged marriage relating to the groom rather than the bride – if I’ve thought about it in the past I guess I’ve always assumed it was a situation that men were happy with and that if anyone was being made to do something against their will it was generally the bride. 

I also found it interesting that in Asha’s culture a marriage is not considered to be simply a match between a man and woman, it’s a case of finding two families that complement each other – which made me wonder whether I might have benefitted from listening more to my parents’ opinions (don’t tell my mother I said that!).

Throughout it all, from light-hearted bickering and reliving memories to full-blown rows, it was obvious that the pair love and respect each other deeply, and although they each want to get their own way, they also want to make each other happy.

Ravi is married now, and has been for some time, to someone he met and chose himself. His mother would very much like them to have a baby.

Food for thought

A Brimful of Asha was funny and thought-provoking. I enjoyed it very much but, if I’m honest, I think the running time could be shaved by a good 10 or 15 minutes – it’s not a long show (90 minutes straight through with no interval) but about half way through they do seem to slow the tempo a little and it loses steam somewhat.

It runs until Saturday 20 May, with performances at 8pm each evening and a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday. If you’re attending an evening show it’s worth arriving early to see one of the short curtain raisers being presented in the bar this week; last night it was a rather fabulous folk duo, Striking Clock, who played a selection of Celtic jigs and reels, and the line-up also includes dancers and a thirty-piece choir. And, on Thursday night, it will be worth staying late too, to take part in what promises to be a lively post-show discussion.

A Brimful of Asha is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 20 May


Tobacco Factory Theatres
The Tobacco Factory

A popular theatre and café bar in Southville, with a programme of touring and in-house productions, childrens' and music events