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India beautifully evoked with flamboyant dancing, mime and puppetry in play about touring theatre troupe

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The spirit of India pervaded the Arcola Tent, even if her sultry climes didn’t. I wasn’t the only person desperately trying to thaw my feet in front of the warm air vent at the intermission. But the fact that nobody walked out at half time despite the severe discomfort of the benches and the bone-seeping cold is testament surely to the captivating world of the play.

Baba Shakespeare is the story of a troupe of British actors travelling around India in the early 60s with their repertoire of Shakespeare plays. But at a time when Bollywood is really taking off is there still a place for theatre in India or is it time for the Brits to go home?

The exoticism and colour of the Asian subcontinent are beautifully exploded onto the stage with flamboyant Indian dancing, mime and puppetry. The dances, choreographed by Coronation Street’s Sunita (Shobna Gulati,) juxtapose cleverly with the stoicism of the Shakespearean plays in all their Elizabethan majesty.

There are some wonderful performances by peripheral actors - Bob Hough is absorbing as the sad old actor and Janet South gets a lot of laughs as prim hotelier Mrs Bowen. But most of the other funny lines don’t quite work and there is an uncomfortable amount of dead time as actors, expecting laughter, are slightly stumped at the lack of audience reaction.

Nevertheless, this is a delightful play and a nostalgic portrayal of India just as she was coming into her own. Just remember your thermals.

* Baba Shakespeare is at Arcola Tent, in Ashwin Street, E8, until May 2.

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