Opening in the departures lounge at Heathrow, Tanika Gupta’s 2013 play Love N Stuff has a sense of new beginnings. Mansoor and Bindi have been happily married for 35 years but are now on the edge of failure. Mansoor has packed his oversized suitcase and is ready to abandon their life on this “cold island” and return to India for good. With his wife and friends reluctant to see him leave, the play unfolds into a manic frenzy that includes losing two cats in the airport and hiring a fake policewoman to search Mansoor’s bags in a last-ditch attempt to convince him to change his plans.
With just two actors, Komal Amin and Maanuv Thiara, playing a total of 15 characters, at times things get confusing. At their best, the pair flit between varying personalities with confidence and ease. Amin has the knack of transforming her body from a stiff 53-year-old Bindi to a garishly confident perfume seller without a moment’s pause. Thiara, too, impresses with his range – his interpretation of the extravagant lodger Akbar, who steals Mansoor’s car and drives it to the airport without a licence, is one of the evening’s highlights.
But, despite the pair’s merits, the wide, open space of Oldham Coliseum’s stage appears to overpower them. Even in the most touching moments, where they reimagine the early days of the couple’s relationship with a first date at an Indian cinema, they look small on Hannah Sibai’s largely blank set, made up of two portable airport-seat benches – and it is hard not to feel this is a missed opportunity.
The narrative, too, can at times feel cliched and unbelievable. Mansoor’s true motive for travelling to India is not fully reasoned, and Bindi’s reaction makes the couple’s relationship feel one-sided and implausible.
Though its focus on South Asian stories is welcome, Love N Stuff, directed by Gitika Buttoo, fails to explore them in any real depth. Mansoor and Bindi’s life is lovable and laughable – but we are left waiting for this fragmented drama to really take off.