wah wah
Thursday, 21 June 2012

Theatre Review: 22 June

This promising Bollywood-style musical is short on fireworks

Written by Steve Barfield


Steve-Barfield-block-176Wah! Wah! Girls is part of the World Stages London festival and you cannot fault the bold, original ambition to produce a new Bollywood-style musical set in London's East End and as much British South Asian as Bollywood. However, the result is not completely successful and while there are very enjoyable elements, it isn't as exotic as Bombay Dreams (2002) or as melodic as Tamasha's Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings And A Funeral (1998). Wah! Wah!, by the way, is a Hindi term signifying appreciation.

Its boldness is there in the assembled talents. Rising star Tanika Gupta (Sugar Mummies, Gladiator Games) wrote the script, a Bollywood-style love story against the odds that also attempts to offer a social realist take on multicultural London and the conflict between traditional and second generation South Asian culture. Niraj Chag created the score using legacy Bollywood tracks and new music, and two acclaimed choreographers were involved: Javed Sanadi (for the Bollywood numbers) and Gauri Sharma Tripathi (a Kathak choreographer). Emma Riceof the celebrated Kneehigh theatre directed.

Gutsy second generation British South Asian teenager Sita (an oustanding Natasha Jayetileke), a Bollywood-style street dancer, runs away from her violent brother in Leeds. She finds refuge in Newham with Soraya (played by the excellent Sophiya Haque), whose son Kabir (Tariq Jordan) she falls in love with. Soraya runs a club for Mujra (courtesans who specialise in sensual Kathak dance) but is less than pleased about her son and Sita and this leads to a dance-off between the two women. The younger dancer proves herself, and in a celebratory dance number with shopping trolleys, Sita wins her guy.

The use of puppets, especially a fox, struck the right balance of fun and storybook artificiality, but I was less sure about the lurid sets. The dancing and costumes are first-rate and I'd have liked more. There was excellent solo dancing from Sophiya Haque and Natasha Jayetileke, and great routines. Above all, however, the musical needed a couple of show-stopping songs, bigger song-and-dance routines (difficult with a cast of 13), stronger lyrics, and more work to synthesise too many themes. However, there's much to enjoy, and a potential new star in Natasha Jayetileke.

◆ At the Peacock Theatre, London WC2, until 23 June: 0844-412 4300, www.sadlerswells.com

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