After reading the reviews for Neil D'Souza's new play Coming Up, I was very surprised by the tidal wave of reviews that it received that suggested it was "alarmingly confusing"1. Although the play's interweaving narratives were complex, I can hardly see where you could lose track. The story follows Alan, a businessman on a strained visit to his family in Mumbai, who had cared for his father Jacob in his final years. He has avoided visiting for over a decade, despite often being in Mumbai for business. After receiving his estranged father's diary, the audience are guided through his fathers experience of a difficult catholic upbringing in an India struggling for independence. We are also taken through Alan's difficult relationship with both his secret mistress in Mumbai and his 'brother-cousin', whom is suggested to be secretly homosexual and bitter from their unspoken rift. Although it is complicated, I would not say it was a confused storyline, due to the careful multi-roling and narrative framing. I would say however that the play required more time than it was allowed, as even the titular phrase "coming up", a huge idea referencing the growth of India's economy, is only allowed less than half a scene to breathe. There were so many complex ideas and stories to tell that the play could have extended far further than the 80 minutes it took.
One element I felt that may have been confusing was the emphasis on the 'magic', as the posters stated it was a 'magical' story. This element was not fully formed and lost its focus, and could only be explained as that of the mythical 'tiger' of the forest which haunts Jacob's dreams. It is revealed to not have existed, but no explanation or suggested metaphors are obvious. The physical characterisation of the tiger however was fantastic, and of the physicalisation of the actors in their interchanging roles greatly aided in understanding the play. The five actors playing all characters were clearly defined to allow for quick jumps between time and story. Despite this, after speaking to one of the actors, the first question he asked was, "did you understand who was who?", as many of the audience members had complained that they couldn't follow the change in characters, which I found interesting.
Overall, I felt the major downfall was trying to cram all the ideas into a short play - the weaving between Alan and his fathers life, the story of Alan's business, a mistress (who had allowed herself as an intelligent young woman to somehow be dragged along by Alan), the struggles of his cousin whose family are pressuring him to marry, desperate to ignore his homosexuality, the incredible growth of India since his father's time, Catholicism in India, the fight for India's independence - I could go on. It didn't allow for any exploration of essential questions, such as why him and his cousin had fallen out, nor why Jacob had gone back to Mumbai and cut himself off from his family before his death. Even a devastating off-hand comment, that Alan's wife in London had attempted suicide a few years ago, was left as this. A passing comment.
The play had the capability to be the epic tale of redemption alongside capturing wider ideas about India, similar to The Kite Runner or Slumdog Millionaire, however it fell just short - such a shame.