Buddha treads the boards to nirvana - The Worcester Observer

Buddha treads the boards to nirvana

Worcester Editorial 1st May, 2024 Updated: 1st May, 2024   0

THERE will be few who leave this production without a smile on their face and a song in their heart, but they will also with plenty to ponder.

Director Emma Rice makes no secret of the impact Hanif Kureishi’s landmark novel had on her when published in 1990 while she was ‘a struggling actor’ in London. It was a book the now artistic director of her own Wise Children company returned to regularly down the years, so it was no surprise that she jumped at the chance to bring it to the stage, co-adapting alongside the author.

Her obvious love of the novel is evident in every turn of this unashamedly crowd-pleasing production which Rice herself describes as a ‘joyful theatrical whoop.’

Every teenager in every generation thinks they have it tough as they look to negotiate their way into the big wide world, and Karim Amir (Dee Ahluwalia) is no exception. Mixed race and stuck in 1970’s suburbia, Karim, all flares and hair, has a lot to learn about life as he undergoes a dramatic sexual and social awakening.

He strolls on stage and takes straight to the mic like some stand-up comedian to outline just how grim things are in this, the Winter of Discontent – widespread strikes, rampant inflation and a government in turmoil. It all sounds so familiar, but Karim, like every other teenager, has dreams despite such difficulties, although he also needs to discover who he really is in a race hate Britain. “I am an Englishman born and bred. Almost,” says Karim.

No punches are pulled dealing with the racism of the time, from chilling archive footage of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech to National Front ‘boot boys’ carving ‘NF’ into an immigrant’s stomach, while the use of the P-word is thankfully now foreign to most 21st century ears – though sadly not to all.

Karim’s road to enlightenment and his ambition to become an actor is certainly thought-provoking, but it’s also joyous, from party-popping orgasams to a wonderful send up of the theatre-making process which just keeps giving.

It is at times also incredibly tender and moving, never more so than when Karim’s father leaves his mother.

Music is central from the off, as the small but perfectly assembled cast immediately set the tempo as they slip into a disco groove, and the sounds of the suburbs keep coming – T-Rex, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Velvet Underground and Etta James among them. Even Queen at their most catchy with Don’t Stop Me Now accompanies the audience as they leave the theatre.

Set-wise it’s all pretty simple, but hugely effective, as the action moves fluidly from living room to bedroom, corner shop to rehearsal room.

Not even the playing of Margaret Thatcher’s monotone ‘where there is discord’ speech echoing in a new era for Britain and echoing through the Swan can put a dampener on a memorable production which is sure to earn a London run sooner rather than later.

Visit www.rsc.org.uk for further details.


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