There are days when Alhamra becomes home to theater which is humorous and enjoyable. March 17, 2017 was one of those days. The credit of ending this painfully long and dry spell of No Theater in Lahore goes to our very own Kamran Lashari who's been exemplary in his efforts for Art and Culture since as long as one can remember.

Date Night, advertised as a comedy-musical directed by the young and talented Dawar Lashari will be on stage till the 26th of March 2017 and is recommended if you're looking for an evening of farcical humour, without kids.

The news of tickets being sold was thrilling for the ardent theater lovers because a major difference between the Lahore and Karachi theater culture are the tickets. An unfortunate trend set by Shah Sharabeel which dear old Lahoris might've been willing to let go of because of the very promising cast of Date Night. All young, energetic thespians, each one of them more passionate about drama and theatre than the next. But, dissappointingly enough, free passes were widely advertised soon after the ticket prices were announced. Even the Box Office did not have tickets for anyone who still wanted to pay for an evening of laughter or just as a gesture to promote theater.

Seats filled up quickly and surprisingly on time. The enthusiastic response is concrete proof that Lahore has been entertainment starved for long time and it is ready for good theater. The nostalgia of Hall 1 is now more refreshing because it's been redone to be more clean and tidy. The seats however could've been much more comfortable, especially for the tall and broad ones.

The play is a farcical comedy set in England, a detail missing in all of the actors’ accents. It revolves around two young couples who plan a weekend away from the city- but not with their spouses. The cast has 5 actors ( a 6th character of Mrs Smith existed in the brochure but was never seen on stage).

The set is simple, neat and effective hotel lobby, two mirroring rooms of different wall colours and two balconies. The wall clocks in both the rooms didn't work and displayed different times, which was painful for the OCDs in the audience.

It starts with Roger (Waleed Zaidi), a shrewd, slippery man, checking in as Mr Smith and eagerly waiting for a special young lady, with champagne and all. Waleed is funny, unbelievably flexible (because he survived a dangerous looking fall which could've broken both his legs) and is excellent at improvisation. His timing is spot on and other than a couple of moments when his energy dipped considerably and he seemed to have disconnected with the rest of the cast, he did a good job!

The Hotel Manager, Ferris (Shan Lashari) is an instantly likeable character brimming with energy and was performed with genuine sincerity. He has the most catch-lines and delivers the most laughs. Shan could've been an absolute show stealer with a little less needless screaming and some creative tone variation.

Geoff (Shah Fahad) is a timid, miserly and confused character who checks in as Mr Smith as well, and is also waiting for a special young lady. There is no champagne for her though. Shah does justice to the role as he tries desperately to act macho and “get lucky”. His accent - a mix of a desi nasal and an almost acquired twang was somehow amusing. His energy was perhaps lower than the others, but there was no unnecessary screaming, unlike the others. He managed to look absolutely at ease on stage, until it was time for the dance sequences which clearly tested his comfort zone. His subtle moves during the scenes when the focus was on the other characters were quite intelligently performed.

Sally (Sana Jafri) is the catty, dominant, sharp lady Roger is waiting for. Sana has a powerful stage presence, looks good (read hot - for the lack of a better word) with her bright red curls and fiery red lipstick, both of which she flaunted to the maximum with perhaps a little too many of head jerks and lip pouts. Some of her moves were definitely over the top with excessive sensuality where subtle sultry and suave moves would've accomplished much more. Her energy was brilliant throughout the play, but the chemistry one expects from a couple who are so terribly attracted to each other was surely missing on stage.

Helen, (Mehar Bano) is the scatterbrain, clumsy, in love with chocolates and a very loud young lady who nervously checks in to meet Geoff. She establishes herself as a nervous wreck from her first entry with her Momo - from - Bulbulay- walk, the ridiculously obvious sunglasses and awkward laughter fits. Mehar Bano emits contagious energy on stage and is very quick in picking cues. However, much less of those unnecessary exaggerated slapstick moves, over dramatic facial expressions and the repeated maniac laughter would've added depth and class to her character.

It is established very early in the play that both these couples have planned hard and long for this get away. With the early revelation of Roger and Helen being husband and wife, who are there with different people, the rest of the play is about frantic efforts to hide this fact from the Geoff and Sally as well as each other. It involves a lot of reluctant help from Ferris who reminds one of Joey from Friends desperately trying to keep Monica and Chandler’s secret. Most of the humour in the plot comes from the fact that the room telephones don't work and a visit to the lobby is needed every time a request as small as a peanut butter sandwich has to be made. The plot turns into a constant cat and mouse chase with at least one character inevitably trying to hide from someone. The numerous exits and entries of every character, a couple of Hollywood dances (the curtain call dance was definitely extra), the surprise element of Geoff and Sally being husband and wife as well and the fast cue picking keeps it funny, interesting and short and it ends at the perfect time without any drag.

The plot did have some loopholes. One does wonder why Helen would protect Roger when she knows he's been cheating and goes insanely livid, almost psychotic when she finds out? Then there is the fact that a pair of regular, most common grey trousers gives away not one, but both husbands’ identity to one totally drunk (but absolutely fit to dance without missing a beat) and another bird brain wife. While we are on the subject, the fact that trousers had to come off and repeated crass, double meaning jokes had to be told to ensure humour was not at all in good taste. Truth be told, it's much more likely for wives to identify ties or shoes than pants.

The relentless display of bottles of Fanta, Oye Hoye Crisps (that too in England) , Rose Petal Tissue boxes, and an actual dialogue about calling a Careem takes away from the true essence of the play. Commercial advertisement, if necessary, needs to be done with more restraint, delicacy and care than used here.

Like every farcical comedy, a clear, succinct message, something the audience could've taken home with them was missing.

It is unfortunate that the team did not stick to the original decision of selling tickets, probably fearing a low turnout. It would have set a precedent for all future projects. One can always send out invitations, fill pages with special mentions and dedicate nights to sponsors, but building a culture of paying for theater is needed to inculcate true appreciation of this fascinating and definitely exhausting form of Art.

The producers, directors and script adaptation teams need to believe that our audience is intelligent and have the ability find things funny even when they are not laden with crude, double meaning jokes about adult stuff only. Vulgarity, surely is no substitute of wit.

Lastly, let us hope that the revival of theater in Lahore does not take the course of bagging a dozen or so big named sponsors and settling to provide mediocre entertainment while focusing on appeasing the sponsors. Let's hope it takes the course of bagging many more than a dozen, willing and supportive sponsors, full houses of happy-to-pay-for-theater-audience and a series of fantastic, mindblowing, thought provoking work, which leaves them fulfilled yet longing for more.

Dawar Lashari has taken the much awaited first leap to get the wheel rolling and he surely deserves a pat on the back. It is now up to the other thespians to take his lead and raise the bar. Let's hope that Date Night is just the beginning of many more of well planned and diverse projects that cater to every segment of the audience in Lahore- for this city deserves it.