Theatre Review: ‘Hold the Mushrooms’, an emotional rollercoaster on and off stage

Are fathers usually condemnatory about their daughter’s choice of a partner? Are mothers always oscillating between spouse and child, harmony and banter? Do children often misconstrue parental concern for imposition?

And what happens if everything comes tumbling down unexpectedly one day?
Binoy Mohan’s debut theatre script ‘Hold the Mushrooms’, which ran four sold-out shows
in Singapore the first weekend of May, is a ‘dramedy’ that attempts to address above
questions as crisp dialogues blend puns, parodies and poignance, leaving the audience either in splits or in tears.

“When I started writing the play, I did not intend for it to be dark,” said Mohan, a tech entrepreneur and playwright who first penned the middle of the tale—a dialogue between a working mother and her daughter—and then created a literary emotional seesaw at the beginning and the end. “I didn’t want the story to be preachy.”

Hold the Mushrooms actors and director.  Photo courtesy: Bipin Balakrishnan
The cast of Hold the Mushrooms at the National Library Drama Box where the play was hosted in Singapore. From the left, Rikin Khanna, Tania Mukherjee, Preksha Banerjee, Charan Singh (Director), and Bipin Balakrishnan. Photo Courtesy: Bipin Balakrishnan

The bittersweet drama of a cosy and modern Indian family is directed by Charan Singh, a versatile actor himself known for his role in films Tashi (2018), Kathaah at 8 (2019) and Singapore Vignettes (2021). He delicately guides his characters through wit and wallow, ensuring nothing is over-the-top including the beats of a Pink Floyd song during scene transitions. Singh, whose day job is in the shipping industry in Singapore, directed his first film Dost in 2021.

Bipin Balakrishnan and Tania Mukherjee in an intense scene from Hold the Mushrooms Photo courtesy: Kavita Chandran
Bipin Balakrishnan and Tania Mukherjee, who play the parents, rehearsing an intense scene from Hold the Mushrooms Photo courtesy: Tania Mukherjee

‘Hold the Mushrooms’, whose title provides a subtle reference to some potentially allergy-inducing takeaway orders, debuted in Bangalore last year directed by Arundhati Raja, a veteran theatre artist. The actors in Bangalore were different from those in Singapore, and will be so in Chennai too, its next destination. The crew hopes to take the 90-minute production to Mumbai as well.

What stands the screenplay apart is its humanistic and agnostic stance where characters have no names, religion or titles, thereby eliminating the possibility of bias and allowing the audience to feel love, laughter, grief and gratification all at once.

“The whole range of emotions we were feeling was reflected in the audience,” said
Bipin Balakrishnan of Indian rock band Bandwidth fame, who plays a nonchalant but exacting father, receiving accolades from the audience for his brilliant performance.

“What we did on stage wouldn’t have been the same if the audience hadn’t received and reciprocated in the manner that they did.” When he’s not grooving on stage or acting in movies, Balakrishnan is advising multinational companies on tax and international trade.

The four-cast screenplay also includes Preksha Banerjee and Rikin Khanna, a young but nervous couple whose decisions form the premise of the story, their acting evidently overshadowed by the senior and more experienced crew members on stage.

The mother, played by Singapore’s theatre sweetheart Tania Mukherjee of ‘Constellations’ fame, embodies strength and conviction, while at the same time providing therapy to her peers and her audience unsparingly.

“It has been very fulfilling. A lot of audience members were people who have watched Charan, me and Bipin before,” said Mukherjee, who also produced this play run in Singapore. An award-winning performer, she has acted in 17 plays, 3 feature films and 3 short films, and her stage credits include Masrayana, All My Sons, Arabian Nights (by Mary Zimmerman), Tartuffe, Baby With the Bath Water (by Christopher Durang), Nine gems, X at 40, Another Ticket to Bollywood, Nagamandala, Maya, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Dance of the Birds, Iss Majhdhar Mein, Atmakatha, Caught in the net (by Ray Cooney) and Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’ which did seven shows in Singapore in 2022. “If I have a producer who is interested in doing a second run of ‘Hold the Mushrooms’ in Singapore, we will all do it again happily,” said Mukherjee.

Verdict from audience: “It was universal and timeless. The acting was fantastic and Bipin is a rare talent who, along with Tania, carried the show.” – Harmeet Singh Bedi.

Singapore Theater