Director: Barry Kyle
In an interview the author, Paven Virk, “wanted to create real drama along with the comedy” and also “wanted to highlight something darker than just a group of women living together”. I feel that she did achieve this aim with her play The Usual Auntijies that was presented in the studio of the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
Set in a women’s refuge in Coventry three nameless women are trying to rebuild their lives after leaving their husbands. Through a mixture of comedy and bitter honesty each woman’s past experiences and dreams are slowly revealed.
The three inhabitants of the refuge were performed with sensitivity and feeling by Jamila Massey, Mamta Kaash and Shelley King. The audience really felt for their plight and the feeling of friendship visibly grew between the three ladies as the play progressed. Shalini Peris as the idealistic Gurpreet and Pushpinder Chani as Raj provided the counter point to the ladies as the young newlyweds.
Staging the play in the studio meant that the play benefited from the space’s intimacy and gave the living room of the refuge a real feeling of safety and warmth. The set is simple but very effective and the space is utilised well by having the set on three levels. These levels clearly separated the living room of the refuge from the bedroom of the married couple and from the outside world. The use of a large screen worked particularly well, not only to project images onto but also to create atmospheric shadows during the park scenes.
Overall this production held my interest well and with issues that included, arranged marriages, desertion and domestic abuse, there was a lot to think about, and maybe this was the piece’s problem. A couple of moments in the first and second half confused me and I found myself anxiously trying to work out what was going on as I felt that I had not been given enough details about the individual characters to understand the situations I was seeing. Also at some points I found it difficult to engage with the characters or feel any sympathy for them because I wasn’t given a chance to find out about them before the issues of the piece were introduced. This problem eased as the story progressed and by the end it had almost completely disappeared, as by then I knew a lot about the characters and was able to empathise with them. I particularly enjoyed the moment where two of the Auntijies were playing Twister together; at that moment the audience knew that they would be alright and that they were well and truly beginning to bury their demons.
This play is full of strong women, humour, friendship and determination. It is a beautifully staged piece with strong performances from its cast that will give you much to think about for long after you have left the theatre.
Runs till Saturday 26th March