Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022 Theatre Review: Rajesh & Naresh (Summerhall) ★★★

Feeling that something is missing from his life, British Asian banker Rajesh takes his mother’s advice and travels to India for the first time since childhood. Meanwhile Naresh, a socially-awkward cricket bat maker, is on the verge of giving up hope of meeting the man of his dreams.

Bhramdeo Shannon Ramana and Madhav Vasantha. Photo credit: James Ireland.

Written by James Ireland from an original concept by Arjun Singh and drawing on workshops with members of the queer South Asian community, Rajesh and Naresh is a sweet, hopeful love story that challenges stereotypes. Set in 2018, just after India’s landmark decriminalisation of homosexuality, the play celebrates how far we have come, but highlights that there is still a long way to go.

Bhramdeo Shannon Ramana is engaging as Rajesh, handsome and assured when it comes to hooking up, but struggling with the racist attitudes he encounters at work and on the London dating scene. As a counterpoint, Madhav Vasantha’s Naresh is wonderfully awkward and endearing, proud to be out but lacking in self-love.

Ramana and Vasantha give strong performances, both as the titular characters, and as a catalogue of others ranging from loving mothers to horrible bosses. As Billy, Naresh’s oversexed and under-buttoned best friend, Ramana shows both his range and comedy chops. There are also some hilarious and touching scenes as Vasantha plays Rajesh’s overbearing but loving mother, as well as a string of Mumbai residents.

Bhramdeo Shannon Ramana and Madhav Vasantha. Photo credit: James Ireland.

Geetanjali Singh’s beautiful choreography is superbly performed by the pair, while Alex Berry’s set design is simple but flexible. The staging feels a little stilted, and the scene changes take too long – so much of the energy and momentum being dropped during yet another costume change. This is a pity, because the scenes themselves are almost always funny, moving or both. Some focus on pace and smooth transitions would better hold the audience’s attention and gaze.

Rajesh and Naresh may not be the perfect play, but it is a vital and engaging one. Challenging perceptions about queer relationships within the Asian community and giving some visibility to characters we rarely see in UK theatre, this is a tender piece that delivers positive and authentic representation.

By Deborah Klayman

Rajesh & Naresh plays at Summerhall, Edinburgh until 14th August 2022.

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