REVIEW: Night at The Bombay Roxy at Dishoom Kensington

Raj Aich as Romesh in Night at the Bombay Roxy
Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
Night at The Bombay Roxy
(Dishoom Kensington, 30 November 2017 (press night). Review by Sara Mitra)

The word ‘unique’ gets thrown around a lot when describing creative events. Every new project is groundbreaking, daring, experimental, boundary-pushing. It is how London crowds are wooed to attend, looking for novelty to reawaken an over-saturated cultural palate.

Night at the Bombay Roxy, the piece of immersive, devised theatre currently running at the new Dishoom Kensington transcends such easy descriptors. It is easily one of the most extraordinary, the most lovingly-assembled pieces of site-specific theatre that one could hope to experience. Based on the writings of Naresh Fernandes, the ‘Indian Noir’ underworld of 1940’s Bombay is brought to life, a testament to the vision of Shamil Thakrar, co-founder of Dishoom and the creative director of the show. Directed by Eduard Lewis, produced by Ollie Jones and Clem Garrity and composed/arranged by Dom James, the show sold out immediately, so this review could be seen as somewhat superfluous – nevertheless, here it is!

It is rather hard to explain exactly what happened for last night’s attendees – reality and performance flowing seamlessly together. Is it a three-course meal with a story unfolding around you, or a performance where the cocktails and dishes served are digestible props for the action? Are we in a dressed-up theatre set or in a living, working restaurant? When the ‘manager’ accidentally tips a bottle of champagne over a table, is this scripted or unscripted? Are the diners around you actually actors pretending to be guests, or are they similarly unsuspecting punters?

Vikash Bhai as Cyrus in Night at the Bombay Roxy
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks
Set on the opening night of the fictional Bombay Roxy nightclub in a newly independent India, Vikash Bhai plays the role of the charismatic former ne’er-do-well Cyrus Irani, whose story drives the narrative of the evening. We meet an extended cast of Bombay faces that populate this alternate reality, including the mesmerising nightclub singer Ursula Vaz (the multi-talented Sophie Khan Levy) and his potential nemesis known only as The Inspector, portrayed with terrifying realism by Harmage Singh Kalirai.

As for the jazz ensemble, their names will be familiar to any regular reader of LondonJazz News. On drums, David Ingamells was joined by Helena Kay (Saxophone, Clarinet) and trumpeter Miguel Gorodi. Depping for scheduled pianist Leon Greening was Sam Watts, with Dave O’Brien covering for Loz Garratt on double bass.

Our quintet of musicians, although in non-speaking roles, are an integral part of the plot development. The music swings between background and foreground purposes, from structured 1940s-style numbers, to more playfully anachronistic renditions of standards that push into post-bop territory. The ensemble skips along that precarious line between pastiche and living improv, with each player ably setting aside their own contemporary voice to allow the play’s era to guide their musical approach for the evening. Ingamells’ love of jazz drums history is clearly present in his choice of influences for this role: Krupa, Chick Webb and Zutty Singleton for the time-period specific moments, whilst moving into Kenny Clarke ‘bombs’ and Philly Joe Jones-style exuberance for the more free interludes.

There are moments of piano and sax duo which evoke what some musicians lovingly refer to as ‘pipe and slippers jazz’. Knowing echoes of Ben Webster and Lester Young combine with Casablanca-style piano on tunes such as You Don’t Know What Love Is, indulgently louche then swiftly back to exquisitely understated. We often take for granted the absolute mastery of self that is required for the art of the duo, to hold back from egotism and bravado, and to let the songs sing themselves. The pairing of Kay and Watts was truly that masterful, and their interaction seemed as effortless as breathing. With the full ensemble taking their places later in the evening, the addition of Sophie Khan Levy on vocals propelled the band into a semi-burlesque rendition of Let The Good Times Roll, with the lyrical adaption of rupees replacing dollars,naturally. Khan Levy has a versatile and emotive approach, with Billie Holiday cited as her influence for the role. Should the actress choose to make a jazz album in 2018 (as encouraged by me!), this site should definitely cover it.

I’ll leave you with the gentle humour of our anti-hero, who knows his audience too well:

“That’s the good thing about jazz, yaar? No one really knows how to dance to it!” (Cyrus Irani)

Night at The Bombay Roxy runs at the as-yet-unopened Dishoom restaurant in the Barkers Building in Derry St W8 until 11 December.

Categories: miscellaneous

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