Tag Archives: Tanika Gupta

Anita and Me & I

ANITA AND ME

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th October 2015

 

Meera Syal’s partially autobiographical novel comes to the stage via this lively adaptation by Tanika Gupta. It’s the 1970s and Meena is growing up in a Black Country village; she’s already fed up with the demands of family life and so the chance to strike up a friendship with local ne’er-do-well Anita proves irresistible. There is more than a hint of Blood Brothers to it.

Bob Bailey’s set of terraced houses and discarded tyres is the backdrop for this working-class community, a tight-knit group who by and large have welcomed Meena’s family. When a new motorway threatens to run through the heart of the village, tensions break out. It doesn’t help that the official from the council is Punjabi. Racism, depicted early on as the comedy of ignorance, turns nasty and Meena at last sees Anita for what she is.

Mandeep Dhillon shines as Meena, carrying the show as the moody but imaginative teen, sulking and stamping around. Dhillon makes Meena endearing nevertheless.   Her rendition of Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize at a family gathering is a hoot. Jalleh Alizadeh is the pretty but ugly Anita, endowing her with enough of a spark that we hope Meena will help lift her out of her background.

Janice Connolly lends strong support as neighbour Mrs Worrall, and Amy Booth-Steel is twice the value as Anita’s grotesque mother and do-gooding shopkeeper Mrs Ormerod, whose true colours are revealed late in the piece. Joseph Drake convinces as tearaway Sam, disaffected by lack of opportunity, to the point of violence and Nazi salutes.   Ameet Chana and Ayesha Dharker are excellent as Meena’s parents – some characters are more rounded than others, which is fine, because we are seeing everything through Meena’s eyes.

There is much to enjoy – the 1970s references, the clash of cultures and some very funny lines. I can’t quite swallow how beautiful they keep saying the village is, given the Coronation Street stylings of the set, but this is more than a period piece, alas. The protests of the locals against the new motorway that is ‘inevitable’ have echoes in the ill-advised HS2 railway, working class youth are still disaffected, and the rise of racist nastiness is with us all over again – you can bet Mrs Ormerod is a UKIP voter these days.  The production’s fusion of cultures gives a positive message about Britain – a Bhangra rendition of My Old Man’s A Dustman goes down a treat.

Director Roxana Silbert delivers on the fun, the tension and above all the heart of this story of friendship and family. The whole cast exudes energy and fun but the evening belongs to Mandeep Dhillon in a star turn as a girl forced to grow up.

Bostin.

Mandeep Dhillon and Jalleh Alizadeh (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Mandeep Dhillon and Jalleh Alizadeh (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

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Currying Favour

THE EMPRESS

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 18th April, 2013

 

Emma Rice’s production of this new play by Tanika Gupta has Kneehigh running through it like Blackpool through a stick of rock.  All the familiar elements are here: the singing, the puppet children, the music, film projections… giving the story of the experiences of a range of Indian characters in Victorian London both a mythic and a contemporary feel.

This is the black-and-white days, in terms of the palette and also the politics. Abdul Karim (the charming Tony Jayawardena) arrives in England as a gift to Queen Victoria.  Vicky takes to him right away, thanks to his promise to cook curries for her.  He sets about to spice up her life and causes more and more of a stir in the royal household.  This is similar to the film Mrs Brown, in which Vicky cosied up to her equerry, Billy Connolly.  We visit their relationship at various points in the Queen’s final decades, and while Karim becomes more favoured and promoted, the scenes are all rather similar.  Perhaps if Her Maj had been more diffident with him to begin with and he had had to thaw her reserve, the impact of her declaration, in Hindi, that she loves him, might be more striking.

This is also the story of Rani (Anneika Rose) who travels to England as a nanny but is promptly dismissed by her employers as soon as they dock.  Her fortunes rise and fall and rise again, Cinderella in the big city; a Victorian gentlemen takes advantage of her when she impresses him with her culinary skills and throws her out, pregnant and destitute.  We see Rani change from the wide-eyed naive girl to an assured and educated and accomplished woman.  You can almost hear Beyonce saying “You go, girlfriend.”  Her boyfriend Hari (Ray Panthaki) leaves her behind, becoming increasingly politicised thanks to his harsh treatment, before returning for a storybook reunion at the end.  Again, this is a moment that should be more touching.  A madras moment rather than a korma.

Rose carries most of the weight of the piece.  It is through her that we visit the backstreets and underworld of Victorian London.  As she learns about prejudice and the fate of ayahs, we do too.  She gives a likeable performance of a fairytale heroine.  As Queen Vic, Beatie Edney adopts a ‘royal’ intonation, ‘royal we’-ing all over the place and giving the notoriously not-amused monarch a surprisingly girly giggle.  We get a sense of the authority of the woman and also the humanity – I just would have liked this aspect to be coaxed out of her with a little more resistance.

Lez Brotherston’s set evokes a sailing ship and there are monochromatic miniatures of London landmarks.  The floorboard stage is edged by a moat, reminding us of the sea, and the island nation.  After Vicky pops her royal clogs, the cast set fire to little paper boats and float them in this water as tribute.  But there is also a sense of burning boats – Rani, Hari and Karim are on their way back to India, never to return.  This is the kind of moment of theatrical impact Emma Rice does so very well.

Rina Fatania adds comedy as the worldly Firoza.  In the second act when the piece begins to take on a slightly more documentary feel, she gives a speech about her life experiences.  Vincent Ebrahim has dignity as the prospective MP who faces Tory opposition; he, when elected, makes a speech describing the true conditions faced by people ‘liberated’ by colonisation.   It’s all well-presented and well-performed but it’s all a bit soft-edged.  There are lessons to be learned from the past and parallels with the treatment of immigrant workers of today.  Wrapped up in this, admittedly enjoyable, presentation, the story is warming but lacking in bite.

Posh/Spice: Beatie Edney and Tony Jayawardena. Photo: Steve Tanner

Posh/Spice: Beatie Edney and Tony Jayawardena. Photo: Steve Tanner