West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Jane and Kate have arrived in a dank and depressing flat with their things in black plastic bags. This is not the first time that the pair have had make a midnight flit to a new flat, town and life, and 16 year old Jane is sick of it. Kate, her mother, in black leather jacket and an attitude that can stop someone in their tracks, needs money and confronts Jane with her responsibility to earn her keep because, "It's your name on the rent book".
Running out into the street life of Bradford Jane meets Dini working on his brother's market stall and with his exuberant and effervescent love of Bollywood films, he sweeps Jane into a land of lip-syncing to glittery dance numbers whilst doing work experience at the crumbling local cinema, the Star. She may only have left school with "One GCSE and a swimming badge" but the proprietor, Mr Desai, takes advantage of her willingness to work and her "drive".
Amanda Whittington's play centres round two central issues: Kate's relationship with her daughter and Dini and Mr Desai's relationship which, if it were to become public, would not be widely acceptable to their community. In her primary story line, Whittington returns to her theme of teenage pregnancy, which she initially explored in Be My Baby. Here Kate has struggled as a young single mother, the consequences of which being the fast-paced and fractious allegiance the two have negotiated over the sixteen years of Jane's life, with Jane only able to address her as "Kate" and not Mum.
Whittington's secondary love story, which is equally fraught with difficulties, if not more so, is inevitably given less stage time than it perhaps deserves. Whilst the author says in the programme the play is "about all sorts of things; growing up, falling in love, sexuality and religion", she also notes that in her approach to the play she could not presume too much as this is not her culture or her background. At the end this side of the tale comes to a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion but perhaps this is because Dini and Mr Desai's situation deserves a play all to itself.
This production incorporates forty local amateur dancers (two alternating teams). Their sunflower inspired dance number is a joy to watch, and their visible exhilaration in the Bollywood choreography makes you want to sign up to a local dance class the minute you walk out of the theatre. The choreographer Zoobin Surty creates a sumptuous visual feast, blending the glamorous Eastern routines with panache into Western (or West Yorkshire) theatre.
The alternating worlds of interior and exteriors are effortlessly swivelled into place by Colin Richmond's gritty and transformable set, and become all the more fanciful as Jane escapes reality into the swirling world of her imagination and fantasy performances as the leading lady in her new found beloved Bollywood film world. The delightfully cheesy clips of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a Bollywood classic, are projected above and are worthy of nothing less than a heart-felt 'thumbs up'!
Katherine Dow Blyton struts as Kate, and Nichola Burley is eager to please as Jane, and while the two perform a striking relationship, the rapid fire of their exchange at times leaves the audience struggling to catch up. This is a loss when the readily peppered dialogue is a pity to miss, but as the pace steadies and the characters are given a chance to breathe. Director Nikolai Foster lets his actors shine. But in this production it is Darren Kuppan who steals hearts as Dini. His charismatic character of a frustrated lad whose generous good nature easily befriends Jane is only topped by his performance in the dances with cheeky humour.
The play's finale is not quite Bollywood in conclusion but the ends are conveniently tied up, and whilst the piece won't make you question life's unjust prejudices, it will send you home with grin on your face and a Bollywood song in your heart.
Running until 30th June
Reviewer: Cecily Boys