Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Handlooms

Rani Moorthy
Rasa and Contact
Alankar House of Sarees
12 March 2018 to 24 March 2018

Never seen a show produced in a sari shop? Contact Theatre is always ready to shine its adventurous light under a bolt of silk - so why not?

Contact is homeless at the moment while their future space is under wraps so fresh ideas are welcome, hence The Sari Shop, a sparkling attraction on Manchester's famous Curry Mile - a real-life location.

The author, Rani Moorthy is also a member of the threesome cast, as Neeta Sharman, who runs the sari business with her son Rajesh (Ashraf Ejjbait). The usual story line for a family business is the parental reluctance to accept new ideas and the next generation pushing for change. Not so here where mother Neeta, a successful breadwinner, wants to swop traditional silks for modern man made fibres, both cheaper and better to work with.

Rajesh, with his smooth tongue for the customers and devotion to sensuous saris, is desperate "to preserve something beautiful". Tempers rarely fray as they fold and smooth the rolls of fabric but arguments erupt exploring the changes in migrant life which challenge traditional Indian customs. Asha Patel (Riana Duce) an old school friend of Rajesh (who rescued him from the bullies) is planning her own wedding but makes no secret of her critical views on the essential sari - "I don't feel I own it".

There is no stage as such but two raised platforms for displaying the rich fabrics in stock plus the audience wear headphones for an "immersive" sound experience. This is an unusual production, based where it is, but offers challenging messages for the future.

Reviewer: Diana Stenson

Comments

Comment by David Murray

As a drama, Rani Moorthy’s story is straightforward, and the characters convincingly drawn but not particularly original. Dialogue and music are fed through headphones which are good for the scenes out of sight and to counter ambient noise in a working shop, but a little frustrating when live in front of you.

The production covers a number of fascinating political and economic topics including globalisation, our treatment of refugees, our throwaway consumerist culture, the consequences of chasing low cost production, and how a specialist retailer in South Manchester can survive a cultural shift in the sari market.

So the production asks us what we think about consumerism and globalisation. What is the price to pay for low cost global supply chains? Rather than exposing the inequalities of sweat shops, Moorthy considers whether the ethical model can work. Perhaps it can, but it needs people with Rajesh’s vision to succeed.