Calcutta Kosher
The Kali Theatre Company
(Touring Production)

This latest offering from the Kali Theatre Company presents a wealthy but ailing mother, who is visited in dusty Calcutta by her two expatriate daughters.

Esther, the elder and more reserved sister, lives in London and is a loyal housewife to her husband and two children. In contrast, the brash Silvie resides in Los Angeles, snorts cocaine and has money and therapy in equal measure.

When the two girls arrive in their mother's small and stuffy apartment - the very rooms in which they grew up - they are shocked to discover Mozelle has suffered a heart attack. As her health deteriorates - she has bribed the doctor to release her from hospital and refuses to take tablets - the past begins to unravel and both daughters are forced to confront some uncomfortable revelations and truths.

Aside from being a family drama, this Shelley Silas play boasts an intriguing extra dimension; all its characters are Indian Jews, who can trace their routes back to a man called Shalom Aaron Hakohen. After leaving his birthplace of Aleppo in 1788 and heading for Basra, Baghdad and finally India, he settled in Calcutta. Here he helped establish a Baghdadi Jewish community that was swelled by several thousand immigrants from Baghdad and Aleppo.

At present, there are only about thirty Indian Jews still living in Calcutta, and this play uses mother Mozelle to symbolise a community fading from existence. Certain exchanges during the play leave the audience with pertinent questions to ponder, such as what will happen to the historic synagogues of Calcutta when all the worshippers are gone?

The first half of Calcutta Kosher is pacey and very enjoyable. Slick dialogue is laced with light-hearted humour and sharp one-liners. As sisters Esther and Silvie, Harvey Virdi and Shelley King play off each other extremely effectively, while Jamila Massey infuses the part of Mozelle with just the right blend of headstrong histrionics.

A good word also for Seema Bowri as Maki, the young girl who has always lived and served in the family residence but is suddenly revealed to be a blood relative. Although the character is underdeveloped, Bowri makes a good fist of the part, using strong body language and terse delivery to produce some prickling tension.

Sadly, the production goes off the boil after the interval. In contrast to the opening hour, which climaxes in high drama, the play limps awkwardly towards its inevitable conclusion. After penning a roaring opening, Silas's well of inspiration appears to have run dry; what other explanation can there be for revisiting a tame joke about pickles several times.

The character development of Esther and Silvie also splutters and they plunge into ponderous bouts of soul searching and introspection. As Esther, Virdi struggles with the emotional demands of the part; her crying is very unconvincing. As for the matriarch Mozelle, she crashes from cheerful resignation and witty repartee to an invalid who can offer little more than mutterings and moans.

At times, this play is moving and poignant - the breakdown of dedicated servant Siddique (an excellent cameo from Richard Santhiri) in the final scene is powerful and a potential tearjerker.

But while Calcutta Kosher delivers an interesting history lesson, provokes some serious thought and delivers some genuine laughs and dark comedy, you can't help feeling it could have been a whole lot better.

(c) J A Waddington 2004. For syndication rights, please email.

Venue: The Alhambra Studio Theatre, Bradford.
16th March 2004
3/ 5
Reviewed by:
Alex Waddington
Stuff to buy:
Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women's Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope (Brandeis Series on Jewish Women)
Jael Silliman

The Jews of India: The Story of Three Communities
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Social and Religious History of the Jews: Late Middle Ages and Era of European Expansion (1200-1650): the 0ttoman Empire, Persia, Ethiopia, India and China
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Who Are the Jews of India? (An S. Mark Taper Foundation Book in Jewish Studies)
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The Jewish Communities of India: Identity in a Colonial Era
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Jews in India and the Far East
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Studies of Indian Jewish Identity
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A History of the Jews of Cochin
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The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery
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The Missionary Position: Ideology of Mother Teresa
Christopher Hitchins


Parlour & the Streets: Elite & Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta
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The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation
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Guilty Without Trial: Women in the Sex Trade in Calcutta
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Forthcoming Performances

25th - 26th March 2004, 7.45pm
Y Theatre, Leicester

27th March 2004, 8pm
Contact Theatre, Manchester