“The feel of the sunbaked Indian dust between sandals and bare toes; that and the smell. It was the honey smell of the fuzz-buzz flowers of thorn trees, the smell redolent of the sun, more alive and vivid than anything in the West" - Rumer Godden, recalling her halcyon childhood from “Two under the Indian Sun.”
Lisa White’s grandmother was also born into a privileged, professional family in Colonial India, growing up to experience the fading, final days of the British Raj.
Her vivid memories of the heat and dust, childhood, War years, work and marriage were fortunately recorded by Lisa nearly twenty years ago. This insightful memoir has now been dramatised as a one-woman play.
Period mood is quickly captured with Bing Crosby crooning a love song, “From the top of your head, to the tip of your toes, you're beautiful” … as a slender, elegant lady in a blue summer dress and string of pearls sits on an armchair and introduces herself.
She is Millie Shrieves, born 1922 in Agra, India, now aged 86, and begins to reminisce through the dark shadows and sweet dreams of her past with a sense of wistful sadness.
Her father worked for the Indian Railway and the sound and smell of train travel dominate her memories, the blast of steam like a roaring lion in grand Stations, ornate as palaces.
We hear about the lifestyle of her Downton Abbey (Asian-style) bungalow home with an army of servants, cooks, drivers, house boys and a water carrier who sprayed the ground to prevent dust flying around.
And then there was her Ayah, her dear beloved nurse, the children’s nanny. With Father away at work and Mother involved in social engagements, Millie was brought up by her Ayah who misquotes nursery rhymes and recites a sanskrit poems at bedtime, which lulls her to sleep.
The narrative flows between dramatised scenes as the elderly Millie travels back in her mind to the innocent days of childhood, playing hide and seek amidst the scent of jasmine flowers.
She realises now in retrospect that “our parents did not love us.” Her parents’ lives centred around dinner parties and polo matches.
On a long train journey to Calcutta from the window of a first class carriage, Millie observes the real life in India, the limbless beggars, a starving mother “mad with hunger, crawling like an animal”, the brutal vision of the Bengal famine.
Soon she’s packed off to a convent School, (“so many wallopings” for minor misdemeanours) - but now the older, wiser Millie can only question why were children sent away to boarding school?
But this tough, lonely experience nurtures a headstrong, independent young lady determined to escape the social conventions of marriage and children. While pretty young debutantes are rich husband-hunting in the Raj, Millie has her own vocation - to train as a nurse.
At the military hospital, observing the suffering from disease, dysentery and childbirth, a chance brief encounter with a handsome medical officer is the start of her own romantic journey towards love and marriage.
The time travelling, snapshot scenes are occasionally illustrated through short snippets of sound effects and music. The audio-visuals could be enhanced further, with perhaps vintage photographs to enrich the setting and sense of place.
Directed by John Stenhouse with a gentle, genteel pace, the performance revolves like a slow waltz: the overall picture we see of Millie is a subtle sketch, a delicate watercolour rather than a vibrantly colourful oil painting.
Lavender Junction is a poetic monologue related with personal pride and compassion. Based on fact, it’s an authentic slice of social history about women, marriage and motherhood. This inspirational story would certainly adapt well as a documentary-drama for BBC Radio.
While a little girl will totter in her mother’s high heels, Lisa White steps gracefully into her grandmother’s shoes to share this enchanting, evocative tale of love and adventure under the “the bloody heat of the Indian Sun.”
30 July to 25 August (not 12) @ 11.30
Ticket prices: £7.50-£9.50. Concessions £5.50-£7.50.