A raucous comedy about the dysfunctional Johal family whose future is changed forever at Sunita’s explosive surprise 40th birthday party. Put on your birthday party finery and get ready for a samosa saga!
Written by Harvey Virdi | Directed by Pravesh Kumar MBE | Design by Colin Falconer
Brought to you by Rifco Theatre Company in association with Watford Palace Theatre
5 May – 5 July 2023, various venues across UK
It’s Sunita’s birthday and you’re invited to a surprise party at the Johals that leaves the whole family reeling. It’s not just the dhal that’s bubbling under the surface – the Johals have decades of unfinished business.
Written by Hollyoaks star Harvey Virdi, the hugely popular 2014 play from Rifco Theatre Company has been revived with a fresh line-up of strong female leads and a whip smart script, capturing the complex family dynamics of the Johal family in a post-Brexit and post-pandemic world.
Digging deeper into the characters and the relationships between them, the 2023 version stars Indian TV and film actress Divya Seth Shah (Goodbye, Duranga, Jab We Met) who takes on the role of Tejpal, the matriarch of the Johal house. Leicester-based actress Bhawna Bhawsar (Eastenders, Emmerdale, The Undeclared War) stars as Sunita, the reclusive birthday girl, and west London-based rising star Rameet Rauli (Eastenders, Little English) plays Harleen, Tejpal’s high-maintenance daughter-in-law.
The cast is completed by talented actors Devesh Kishore (Last Night, GH Boy and The Bone Sparrow) who plays Tejpal’s fun-loving son, a typical Punjabi mummy’s boy, and Keiron Crook (Coronation Street, Screw, and Violet) who plays Maurice, an east end builder made good, who’s been working on Tejpal’s kitchen renovations.
When the Johals gather in their newly renovated kitchen for Sunita’s surprise birthday party, it slowly emerges that each family member has been wearing a mask. Confrontations erupt, and their masks begin to slip. Secrets are revealed and the truth about relationships unravel. As each character confronts their truth, the family reaches a crossroads and must decide how to live their authentic lives.
Virdi, who is known to fans as Misbah Maalik in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, said:“Relationships can be hard in any family dynamic. We all go through ups and downs, and often shy away from speaking the truth. We are so worried about what ‘people’ say and what ‘people’ will think that we forget to listen to ourselves and our families and what is important for us.
“In the play, everyone’s true selves start to burst out when they least expect it. And it’s up to the family to pick each other back up and celebrate themselves for who they truly are. If we let society and community hold us back, then have we actually made the most of the one life we have been blessed with? It was a wonderful opportunity to explore this aspect of family life and show how being true and honest with ourselves can make us stronger.”
Exploring themes of traditional gender roles, conformity, ageism and independence, the play has all the drama, emotion and surprises of a family at breaking point. Unexpected guests, butter-free roti and skeletons in the cupboard aren’t enough to stop the family busting out some classic Punjabi shapes in the kitchen! So, put on your birthday party finery and get ready for a samosa saga, as Rifco revives this sell-out comedy.
PRESS NIGHT: 10 May 2023, 7pm, Watford Palace Theatre
Happy Birthday Sunita 2023 Tour dates
5 - 12 May - Watford Palace Theatre
18 - 20 May - Northern Stage, Newcastle,
23 - 27 May - Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
29 May - 03 June - Theatre Royal, Windsor
6 - 10 June - Royal & Derngate, Northampton
13 - 17 June - Leeds Playhouse, Leeds
20 - 24 June - Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick
28 June - 1 July - New Wolsey, Ipswich
3 - 5 July - Key Theatre, Peterborough
Harvey Virdi, writer
Harvey Virdi is a British Indian actress, who has played the role of doctor Misbah Malik in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks since May 2017. She trained at Academy Drama School in London. Her other TV credits include The Bill, Holby City, Coronation Street, Casualty, The Jury, Holby City, Doctors, Citizen Khan and The Windsors, film credits include Bend It Like Beckham, Thunderbirds and Bride and Prejudice and theatre credits include The Borrowers, Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet.
Pravesh Kumar MBE, director
Pravesh Kumar MBE is the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of award-winning Rifco Theatre Company. In 2023, he was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list and received an MBE for his contribution to British theatre. He has received critical acclaim for plays and musicals including Britain’s Got Bhangra, Miss Meena & the Masala Queens, Laila the Musical, The Deranged Marriage and Mushy: Lyrically Speaking. Pravesh has a background in film and worked in the commercial Indian film industry often called Bollywood for many years. He recently released his first feature film, Little English, which was released in UK cinemas nationwide in March 2023 by Resource Productions.
Divya Seth Shah
Divya Seth Shah is an Indian film and television actress, who started her career playing Majhli in TV serial Hum Log. She is the daughter of actress Sushma Seth and Dhruv Seth. She is currently shooting City of Dreams 3, The Vaccine War and Duranga 2. Most recently, she starred as Amitabh Bachchan’s co-star in Bollywood film Goodbye playing the role of Dolly Aunty. Other film credits include Jab We Met, English Vinglish and Dil Dhadakne Do.
Devesh Kishore’s most recent TV and film credits include a recurring role in Last Light, and guest roles in Casualty and Echoes. His previous theatre credits include Harvey/Nasir/Baa in The Bone Sparrow (Theatre Royal York) and Simon in GHBoy (Charing Cross Theatre).
Bhawna made her TV debut in 2021 as Dr Shah in Eastenders. Other TV credits include NewarkNewark (comedy), Emmerdale, The Undeclared War, Doctors, Casualty, Cuppa Chai (Short Film) and stage credits include Franny/ Ruana Singh in The Lovely Bones.
Rameet Rauli made her film debut this year as Simmy in Little English (Resource Productions). Other TV credits include Shanti in Eastenders, Sobia in Maternal, Lex in Find Me in Paris S2&3, Prisha in Warren and Anya in Ride.
Keiron played the gangster Al in Coronation Street and can be seen in Channel 4’s Screw as prisoner Farrow. Previous credits include Violet (Charing Cross Theatre, London) and The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas (Theatre Royal Haymarket, London).