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Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Monday, May 13, 2002

Indian Ink
National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON
Thursday, May 9 through Saturday, May 25, 2002

INDIAN INK is a lovely production of a wonderful play. A co-production of the Canadian Stage Company of Toronto and the National Arts Centre English Theatre, Stoppard's play provides a terrific finale for an interesting and varied season.

As a child Tom Stoppard spent four years in India. As he said in an interview, "I retain quite a nostalgia for the heat and the smells and the sounds…" This gentle sensual play explores many themes - friendship, artistic creation, cultural differences and British colonialism. With scenes set alternately in 1980s England and 1930s India, Stoppard also deals with the elusiveness of biography.

The play is centered around Flora Crewe, a 1930s poet and free spirit, and her relationship with an Indian artist, Nirad Das. Flora sees her soul as "a smudge of paint on paper." The Indian scenes shift back and forth with those in the 1980s featuring Flora's sister Eleanor, and also Mr. Pike, "Just call me Eldon," an American would-be biographer, and Anish Das who is searching for his Father's painting of Flora.

The set designed by Susan Benton is airy and lovely, consisting primarily of varying arrangements of gauze panels, a few with the added color of Indian paintings directly on the gauze. Louise Guinand's expert lighting adds a luminous quality to the Indian scenes. Miss Benson is also responsible for the excellent costumes. I particularly admired the embroidered shawl and bias-cut evening dresses in Act II.

Director Richard Cottrell has assembled an accomplished and well-balanced cast. Fiona Reid gives a beautifully nuanced performance in the role of Flora. Hazel Desbarats is equally effective as her sister Eleanor and has one of my favorite lines. She says of Flora that, "She used men like batteries. When things went flat she'd put in a new one."

Sanjay Talwar is thoroughly believable as Nirad Das, the artist. His vulnerability when attempting to adjust to Flora's behavior and ideas is both subtle and touching.

Steve Ross is the very personification of the pompous academic preoccupied with his irritating footnotes. His scenes with the excellent Zaib Shaikh, who plays his Indian guide, are wonderful, especially the camera scene. I must also mention the hilarious body language of Yasin Sheikh as Flora's servant, Nazrul.

Speaking of body language, the play contains a scene with brief nudity, which I can't imagine anyone would find offensive, as it's funny rather than erotic.

Tova Smith and John Cleland are both quite moving in the penultimate scene as the young Eleanor and her future husband. With such a large cast it's impossible to mention everyone. Suffice it to say there are no weak links in this cast.

Richard Cottrell has put together a beautifully harmonious production that does justice to the play. It illuminates Stoppard's ideas and wonderful use of language. As Nirad Das says, "Only in art can empires cheat oblivion."

On a scale of one to five, the Canadian Stage Company/National Arts Centre production of INDIAN INK gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.


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