Hardeep Singh Kohli
Tara Arts Studio
The story of a princess and some singing vegetables who seem to be her only friends, this is a real joy. I had a great time even though at a full house with no seats left I sat on a cushion on the floor.
Last Christmas, Arts Beat, the Tara young people’s theatre scheme, presented Cinderella the Bollywood Pantomime to sell-out audiences; now the professional company offers a different version of the story with the same inspiration. Tara’s founder and artistic director Jatinder Verma sees links between British pantomime, melodrama and burlesque theatre and Bollywood movies with their larger than life characters, villains and underdogs making good. His production of Hardeep Singh Kohli’s eccentrically rhyming verse script combines characteristics of both in the most delightful way.
It is a variation on the Cinderella story in which she is called Sunder and is already a princess, but one banished to the kitchen and the hut where she is made to spend all day making chappals (slippers). Her stepmother Queen Shanti has got rid of her father and rules the kingdom. Shanti’s daughter Happy-Lucky (Ali Zaidi making a suitably ugly female) has supplanted Sunder as princess. There is only one ugly sister but wicked Queen Shanti becomes an even bigger role for a Dame and Simon Norbury plays it with relish, a villainess you love to hate. Prince Raj, a pumping-iron Prince Charming, is travelling the world looking for a princess bride; Nitin Ranpuria makes him wonderfully pseudo sexy just like those Mumbai stars. He is accompanied by his attendant Nitin (an accidental pantomimic confusion), who is a sort of Dandini and Buttons rolled into one and opens the show putting the audience in the picture.
Nitin is a streetwise cheeky chappie played by lively, charismatic Maya Sandhi, her cross-gender casting sidelined by a gesture to her chest as she declares her/himself the prince’s manservant. Her vitality sets the standard for everything about this show which oozes energy.
It is set on a blue floor edged with a garland of tiny flowers and backed by rich, red hangings that drip dazzle and sparkle with coloured lights. It is sumptuously dressed in a cross between east and west. There is no great transformation scene or grand scenery but Sunder does go glittering to the ball and at close quarters it seems almost overwhelmingly spectacular, so vibrant is Claudia Mayer’s design.
Sunder is enchanting Krupa Pattani, who adds classical India dance skills to modern Mumbai moves. No wonder the prince falls for her at first sight, but she’s no push over pretty thing. She is a positive personality with feminist views.
With musical director Danyai Dhondy on keyboard and Jamie Shaw percussion, the songs composed by Sohini Alam and Hassan Mohyeddin come thick and fast. Sohini Alam, a fine singer with a considerable range, sings them all. As in Bollywood musicals, the deftly dancing actors lip-sync to her voice in a loving send-up of movie style. Or are they sometimes singing an occasional verse? They do it so well that you can’t be sure.
There isn’t a song sheet or a slap-stick scene, the camel is stuck on a stick and there’s no one from Strictly or I’m a Celebrity but who needs them? The spirit of panto is alive and well and it’s here, complete with an aubergine Fairy Godmother to make everything right—which reminds me, those vegetables: a pair of them even find their way into the marriage bells ending. How? Go fight for a ticket and find out for yourself, you won’t be sorry.
“Bollywood Cinderella” runs Tuesday – Saturday until 24th December 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton