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Theatre Review: Basmati Bitch

Basmati Bitch is a new piece of theatre that premiered this week at Auckland’s Q Theatre. It is a collaboration between SquareSums&Co, Oriental Maidens and Auckland Theatre Company.

It is set in the city of Auckland one hundred years from now. It’s a dystopian future world where environmental collapse means the sun never shines and it seems to rain all the time. Untold number of refugees and would be immigrants have flooded into Aotearoa, and the country and its ‘allied nations’ are in a long trade war with the ‘enemy’. 

It isn’t hard to guess who that enemy is since immigrants and refugees from India and China are now barred from entering the country. Food is scarce, rice is outlawed and has thus become a valuable black market commodity. Curiously, for reasons never explained, rugby has also been banned. 

The play therefore opens with an interesting premise – what would New Zealand look like in the future if both the environment and economy had collapsed?

Well according to Basmati Bitch it wouldn’t be pretty. 

The main story concerns a retired fighter named Shiva (Gemma-Jayde Naidoo) who has snuck into Aotearoa and now wants to get residency and work. She meets Bisma (Karishma Grebneff) a bullied immigration official who writes cheesy romantic porn. 

Along the way they get involved with an illegal fight club at a bar, and fall into the hands of an asthmatic mob boss Toby (Mel Odedra). Basically they are blackmailed into fighting and stealing rice. There’s a gay romance between a thug and a bartender, and some rather clever scene changes. 

But this play felt like it was still in development. The plot was fairly weak, and it left me thinking that the production hadn’t settled on what its intention was meant to be. Was it a parody? Comedy? Drama? Noir?

There was some good dialogue, but unfortunately many lines were lost because some actors did not enunciate their words clearly, particularly when shouting or showing anger. There were also times when the music and special effects overpowered those voices as well. 

In terms of performance, Odedra and Naidoo were really very good. Both were in clearly defined roles and seemed very comfortable and confident. 

In one scene Odedra’s character Toby spoke a monologue that was essentially a neo-libertarian clarion call. He stated the belief that inequality, exploitation, and survival of the fittest were simply the natural order and the best thing for humanity. It was well delivered, shocking, and one of the best moments in the entire show. 

I am not writing Basmati Bitch off as it is entertaining and has some great action sequences and some wonderful moments. The design elements were great, and the fight scenes incredibly well choreographed and performed. The production at times broke the 4th wall and narrated directly with the audience. This was fun. 

There were times when the play felt really innovative, but I cannot get past the notion that this show still needs some work and a clearer understanding of the message it wants to convey. 

BASTMATI BITCH

13-30 JULY 2023

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