Hollyoaks actress Harvey Virdi has written a new play called Happy Birthday Sunita, which opens at regional theatres across the UK on May 5.
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.
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