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Happy Birthday Sunita - Northampton Review

Reviewed by: Kathryn

Happy Birthday Sunita is currently on tour around the UK. Originally scheduled to play at The Royal, we were treated to this piece of British Asian theatre in the Derngate due to a technical issue in the Royal.
Despite the difference in the size of the stage and auditorium, the play filled the space with warmth, laughter and thoughts for the audience. 
Photo by Ellie Kurttz
The stage was set with an open stage showing a beautiful, immaculate, modern kitchen complete with sofa, dining table, chandelier and triple pendent. On the wall was a painting of a Sikh Guru. 
We first meet Sunita (Bhawna Bhawsar) when she arrives home after work to an empty house. After a few moments of silence, a short phone call and some dancing, she disappears to allow the rest of the family to introduce themselves - Tejpal, or Mum (Divya Seth Shah), brother Nav (Devesh Kishore) and sister in law, Harleen (Rameet Rauli). 
Act One moves at a steady pace, allowing us to learn about the familys relationships, their place in their community and society and some chuckles about life as a modern Punjabi family. At the end of Act One we meet Maurice (Keiron Crook) - who pretty much says hello and then the lights are up for the interval. 
Act Two moves at a slightly faster pace with more humour but with some twists and turns that whilst not a complete surprise are played with sincerity, depth and true understanding. I wont give too much away but its safe to say that all audience members seemed to relate to the plot and appreciate the writing! 

Photo by Ellie Kurttz
Set design by Colin Falconer was simplistic with one setting but very detailed with fully equipped kitchen cupboards and appliances and sunny, yellow walls. The costumes colour matched the characters well and added a symmetry to the vision.
Lighting by Mark Dymock was warm and welcoming, creating a homely atmosphere with the added fun of LED strips under the kitchen cabinets for the party vibe when the dancing kicked in!
Sound, designed by Nick Manning, was unobtrusive and natural but added enough of a soundscape to place us in a suburban area without overpowering the action. 
Keeping an audience engaged for just over two hours between five actors, three of whom are onstage for pretty much the entire performance, is never an easy task but this quintet did so with ease. Natural comedy, poignant pauses and a genuine warmth towards each other which really developed the family aesthetic as the play moved through.
Thank you to writer Harvey Virdi, director Pravesh Kumar MBE and the rest of the creative team for bringing this story to life in a way that is relatable without overplaying. The incorporation of Punjabi phrases between the family made it feel like a real family kitchen rather than a play which was a nice inclusion. 
A very enjoyable evening out - if youre after some light comedy, a few moments of modern v versus tradition and fancy learning some Punjabi while youre at it, get your tickets for Happy Birthday Sunita. 
For more information about the play and other venues, visit

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

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