The Perfume GardenPhoto - Liz Reed

Mother India and her culture have, over the last few years, expanded their influence on Western society. Through the continued exposure of Bollywood films and Bhangra music, to that ubiquitous call-centre employee ringing to offer you cheap phone rates, India as a culture and society has loomed large in our broader cultural experience.

It’s easy to see why, India remains an exotic place, and exotic places have always fascinated us: a different culture, a different point of view, and a new insight into a world we know nothing or little about. This is what The Perfume Garden written by Rajendra Moodley illustrates to great effect.

Anand (Rajenda Moodley) is 30 and still lives at home with his traditional Tamil parents Chitra (Anastasia Malinoff) and Satya (Greg Ulfan). He has recently begun seeing Devi (Shireen Morris) who has come from India so that she may receive a proposal from Anand and the two may eventually be married. Then there is Ayah (Evelyn Krape), Chitra’s brother’s wife’s mother, who has been paralysed by a stroke and been left in the family’s care. What begins as a cultural comedy soon morphs into something more cosmic when by accident Anand, through the use of telemetry, conjures up his own personal genie in the form of Ayah, to help him survive his marriage proposal.

The show is wonderful light comedy, filled with musical interludes and the obligatory Bollywood dancing, all of which sits well within the daydreaming world that Anand has conjured up for himself. The script by Rajendra Moodley is very strong and has clearly benefited from its long period of development. The performances however are varied, and at times detract from the story. The choice to cast non-Indian actors in many key roles (presumably because of the unavailability of Indian actors in Melbourne) has the unfortunate effect of dropping the viewer out of the world that the play is trying to create: because we feel we know what this family should look and sound like, it becomes difficult to believe these performers in these roles. That being said both Evelyn Krape as Ayah and Shireen Morris as Devi shine in their roles.

The set makes good use of Gasworks cavernous space, although the lighting design by Stelios Karagiannis is perfunctory and doesn’t really add much to such a dynamic story. The most disappointing aspect of this production is the fact that most of the Bollywood dance routines take place on a large screen, rather than live within the theatre. This is a great opportunity wasted, as the chance to see these dancers perform live would have greatly enhanced the impact of Anand’s story.

Though the producers and director have tried very hard to create an atmosphere and an environment around this production, including an Indian buffet that is available before the show in the foyer of Gasworks, overall The Perfume Garden comes across as something of a hodgepodge that’s more akin to an Australian-Chinese Meal: It’s a genuine product that has been watered down to become more palatable for its audience, and that ultimately is a great shame.

The Perfume Garden
By Raj Moodley

Director Babs McMillan
Venue: Gasworks Theatre, Cnr Graham and Pickles Streets, Albert Park (Melways Ref 2J H7)
Dates: July 26 to August 11, 2007
Times: Monday 6.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm
Tickets: Show only $39.50 / $29.50 concession; Show and Indian buffet banquet $59.50 / $49.50 concession; Matinee $25; School groups $15 per ticket (Mondays only)
Bookings: (03) 9699 3253 or

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