The West End may bereft of original new musicals but regional theatre is full of companies, venues and artists tirelessly working to create good, fresh musical theatre. Rifco Arts is one of these companies and they are responsible for this new musical Britain’s Got Bhangra.
The story by writer and director Pravesh Kumar may lack originality and is strangely reminiscent of the much more glossy A. R. Rahman/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Bombay Dreams which played in the West End in 2002. However, for all its glitz and glamour Dreams lacked heart. Not so with BGB. There is heart and soul in abundance, but what it does lack is focus and it suffers from an uneven tone.
With a story spanning twenty odd years and concerning the rise and fall of Bhangra singer Twinkle, a lot of the show appears to be a send up of both British and Asian cultures and this is something the writer excels at. However, the more frivolous elements are grindingly forced to sit along side more serious scenes dealing with contemporary issues but the partnership doesn’t work resulting in some awkward scenes lacking the subtlety needed to be truly poignant.
The cast all uniformly look as though they’re having a ball on the stage and they make an excellent ensemble playing multiple roles with fast costume changes, whilst also changing scenes, and in the most part the acting is of a good standard.
In the lead role of Twinkle, Surrinder Singh Parwana displays good vocal ability but his acting is wooden and he looks too old for the part. As his wife Jussi, Natasha Lewis proves a good all rounder as does Sophiya Haque as Shindie, the baddie of the piece. Also noteworthy is Sunil Pramanik, whose characterisation of Twinkle’s friend Rocky is gentle and believable and Arun Blair-Mangat who turns in a fine performance as lost boy Jason.
Cleverly blending traditional musical theatre sounds and structure with the ever evolving bhangra music is Sumeet Chopra and a sterling job he’s done on it too.The music is scored for a band of six marrying together western instruments with traditional Bhangra instruments and under the direction of Mark Collins, the small ensemble of players sounds great. It’s shame that such good music is then let down by a quota of dreadful lyrics courtesy of Dougal Irvine.
Of course, the sound design is an integral part of the musical success of a show and Andrew Johnson rises to the challenge maintaining an excellent balance between music and singers.
Designer Simon Lima Holdsworth has every reason to be proud of his highly functional and evocative set which looks busy and complicated effectively portrays both India and West London. Douglas Kuhrt enhances the effect of the set with a superb lighting design.
Choreography is supplied by Andy Kumar and is energetically danced by the cast but no amount of energy and smiles can compensate for the fact that one or two of the cast are significantly weaker than the rest.
As a new musical the creative team behind Britain’s Got Bhangra should be applauded for trying something new and despite the flaws this is one new musical that leaves a smile on your face and a spring in your step.