Tinderbox Alley in association with Wales Millennium Centre
Half n Half, chips and rice, offer or compromise? You get a lot for your money with this Tim Riley musical showcased at the Wales Millennium Centre. It is 1987, Michael Fish is predicting a strong wind and the action whirls around an Indian restaurant run by Bangladeshis in Canton, Wales.
It is an ambitious set for a play, with Riley tackling a lot of the issues of racial integration or assimilation, largely ignored by Welsh drama, all through the unlikely format of a musical comedy with cross-cultural romantic interest between West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), a half forgotten war which killed millions and the provenance of the Golden Balti of Baldar all in the exotic climes of Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff. Cardiff East it isn’t, that’s long gone, but is great fun.
With a convincing set designed by Carys Beard, the action quickly sets up a recognisable family drama, the young nephew from Bangladesh is hoping to inherit his uncle’s less-than-thriving restaurant business, while the long serving waiter and part-time footballer Rafiq, expects nothing but want’s more, even love.
Then there is Frank, a car salesman from somewhere north of Caerphilly, who has his own reserved table. Frank is played by Boyd Clack in a bravura performance of pathos and comedy. His delivery, timing and engagement thrusts Frank, a man of frustrated love and expectation into the centre of the comic action while allowing the storm of family and ambition to break around him.
Embracing the genre of musical theatre, the story of Half n Half, confidently directed by Vik Sivalingam, with innovative musical composition by Tim Riley (and musical direction by Gareth Wyn Griffiths), moves on swiftly. Bajar and his son Babur arrive out of the night from Birmingham where Bajar has set up the first Balti restaurant. To complete his dream he needs the Golden Balti of Baldar, a magical urn stolen long ago from monks in the Himalayas, but which now resides in Ali’s Canton restaurant offering After Eights to drunk revellers who always order the great Welsh culinary experience, the half n half. Bajar has money but Ali doesn’t want to sell and to complicate Bajar’s cowboy-inspired Pakistani ideal of manhood his son, who is really his daughter, falls in love with Rafiq, the long suffering waiter who is keeping the restaurant going. Oliver Gyani playing Rafiq and Aryana Ramkhalawon as Babur convince as the star-crossed lovers while Ralph Birtwell cuts a bit a dash as Bajar, the man from Pakistan who has to do what a man has to do, which is in this instance is wrest the Golden Balti from Ali. Ali played wonderfully straight by Ashley Alymann, wants to retire back home, only he doesn’t really know where home is, the brutal war of 1971 is still a very real memory, but in the here and now of Canton, his hapless nephew, portrayed with some distinction by Adrian Quinton, is losing patience with his uncle and is even prepared to deal with the devil and surrender the golden Balti of Baldar.
Half n Half is just one of many recent new plays in Wales playing to enthusiastic full houses, which begs the question why National Theatre Wales have been chasing people around warehouses and fields for years. When you put a good show on in a theatre people will come and engage and enjoy it. This ambitious and witty production creatively realised by Tinderbox Alley succeeds on many levels, not least of all on providing evidence that the best theatre is going on in theatres.
Lewis Davies is currently playwright in residence at Rhosygilwen Hall.
(photo credits: Sarah Bawler)