Behna (Sisters)

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Behna

Too often, site-specific theatre is disappointing because the site just isn’t that specific. Happily, South Asian theatre company Kali have found the right London home for Sonia Likhari’s domestic drama about two generations of Punjabi women.

Mum (Sandeep Garcha) and Auntie (Balvinder Sopal) welcome you in to a two-up, two-down house near Willesden Green with dancing, drumming and a song comparing the benefits of different kinds of wives: thanks to the orange squash and samosas which are handed around, this play even tastes authentic.

The lively welcome feels much bigger than the tiny lounge it’s crammed into. But that song about wives is a prelude to the darker themes of envy and dependency between sisters, which are played out in three well-structured scenes in the equally tiny kitchen.

It’s less the kitchen sink, more the pan of hot fat which is the centre of the initial drama between plump, put-upon Dal (Shaleen Hudda), who cooks for everyone, and her sequined sister Simi (Hema Mangoo), who shows Dal’s agog husband Jag (Gupreet Singh) her horny bhangra moves.

The play presents the sisters as women who judge themselves and each other by how desirable they are and how many sons they bear to the largely offstage men in their lives. Janet Steel’s production rightly turns down the heat, treating shocking revelations and violent rows as a familiar rhythm of family life.

Sandeep Garcha is especially good as the girls’ overbearing mother, doling out warmth to her daughters when they’re succeeding and threatening slaps when they’re struggling to cope. In an audience which is a mix of locals and theatre-trippers, comic lines like: ‘She can’t hit you. You’re married now’ go down nearly as well as those spicy samosas.

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