The first I heard of Date Night was when I saw their event page going around on Facebook, the description of which read, “After a hugely successful run in Lahore, the crew of the hit comedy is in Karachi to make your evenings a whole lot better.”
While the play from its description sounded promising, nothing could have set the play up for what it turned it out to be.
Firstly, as with many other art and cultural efforts, not enough organisers and troupes have emerged as a recognisable entity in their own right. People could argue that it’s because of a dearth of work while others would insist it’s because the efforts aren’t promoted enough.
So when you come across a play where you don’t recognise any of the actors or the production like you would in an Anwar Maqsood play, you’re likely to go in with no set expectations.
Seated roughly five minutes after the play was supposed to begin, I could hear chatter behind me.
“Is the play in English?”
“Yes, complete English,” came the reply.
That was news to me, though to be honest, not completely unwelcome. However, every time someone makes the decision of putting anything out in English, it sparks the debate about whether that would limit its reach or worse, come across as irrelevant and non-relatable to the public here.
When it comes to Date Night, I could identify that as a drawback too; it might not have found a lot of resonance because the script didn’t seem to have been adapted for a Pakistani audience.
The story revolves around two men (who book hotel rooms under the name of Mr Smith) and are both awaiting the arrival of a woman who they would spend the night with. Later, when the women arrive separately, it becomes apparent that one of them, Helen (played by Sheherzade Noor Peerzada) is actually Roger’s (Waleed Zaidi, one of the Mr. Smith) wife but is here to stay with Geoff (the other Mr. Smith, portrayed by Shah Fahad).
As with the names, the dialogues, innuendos and the characters seem foreign, also because the play is set in England.
Hilarity ensues when Roger finds out that his wife is at the hotel where he is already with Sally, the woman he was originally expecting. He enlists the help of the hotel manager Mr Ferris to keep Sally and Helen away from each other and from finding out the truth. Meanwhile, Helen is also worried her husband would find out about her staying with someone else.
The plot now follows each of the characters as they slowly start to discover what the other person is up to and the antics that Mr Ferris has to pull to avoid a confrontation between the characters.
The cast, consisting of Waleed Zaidi, Shaan Lashari, Shah Fahad, Mahnoor Khan and Sheherzade Noor Peerzada was one of the play’s most redeeming aspects. Lashari as Mr Ferris is promising from the beginning and helps introduce each of the characters to the audience, as the play first sets him up, followed by the characters coming to him to check in at the hotel. That’s how the audience becomes acquainted with who they are and what they’re looking for.
Lashari holds the play together and provides much needed comic relief as his character is actually the one with the least to lose.
As the play progresses and he becomes aware that both the husband and wife have checked in with different people at the hotel, he takes in a minute to laugh at the situation himself and then reacts, which was both entertaining and endearing.
Sheherzade and Sally, who play the two wives, outperform in their scenes and characters. They deliver the lines effortlessly and are extremely convincing and confident in their roles as the clumsy chocolate-loving wife and the sexy mistress respectively.
They particularly stand out in the musical transitions that take place at various times in the play. In fact, in one of the scenes when Mahnoor picks up Zaidi and twirls him around, the play probably gets its loudest cheer.
When you look at how confidently the cast is able to pull off their characters and lend an another layer of comedy to the already existing script, you also begin to see how the direction worked in the favour of the play. With five strong characters who bring a completely different personality to the story, it could have been easy for the play to become crowded and unbearably loud.
That’s where Dawar Lashari’s direction helps them find their balance. When Helen and Geoff are in a situation, Sally and Roger take a few steps back. When the plot seems to have reached an unsolvable twist, Dawar uses Mr Ferris to bring in comic relief and transition to the story so that it moves forward.
The tone of the play is also consistently light-hearted and farcical. The set complements the different personalities of the characters and the visual difference between the two rooms where each of the couple is staying in helps the audience makes sense of what’s happening where.
Overall, while the play is light-hearted, fun and meant for a casual viewing, the script does seem a little too superficial and towards the end, you do wish there was something deeper to the plot or the overall story.
It’s mostly anecdotal and delivers lots of easy laughs, a few of which also come across as sexual innuendos.
The script is what our filmmakers should aspire to put in their films when they want to make a “mindless comedy” though it was easy to see that the play had a lot more heart because of the way the actors delivered and the director kept the play engaging.
Lashari says, “My vision for the play was to inspire more and more people towards theater in Pakistan. To make students want to take theater as a course in their studies, to pick dramatics as their choice of extra curricular activity at school, to make people fond of theater once again.”
He also said that while adapting the play for a Pakistani audience, his focus was to keep things fast-paced and not to keep a scene for longer than 3 minutes.
The fact that the duration of the play wasn’t a minute above an hour and a half definitely helped move things along and kept the play from being a drag.
In a way, it was also refreshing to note that the description of “musical comedy” hadn’t been misused to show pointless dances or to crack vulgar and offensive jokes, like a play called Bombay Dreams shown at the same venue years ago, featured. All things considered, Date Night is an entertaining watch for anyone who is looking for something breezy and doesn’t necessarily want to take their mom along.
The play is up at Karachi’s Arts Council everyday till August 27.