The Black Album
West Yorkshire Playhouse
20 October 2009 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews After a run at the National Theatre that was met with largely lukewarm-to-poor reviews, Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album, adapted from his novel of the same name, has gone on tour to seek its fortune elsewhere. Although entertaining, it cannot be denied that the play itself, overwhelmed with the task of examining the explosive trio of faith, politics and censorship, struggles to come alive under Jatinder Verma’s direction. Jonathan Bonnici as Shahid is likeable as a British Asian student with a fondness for Shelley, but is too sincere to make his extracurricular activities – casual drug-taking and liaisons with his lecturer – seem in any way believable. Near-death convulsions after a wild night on ecstasy pass by in an awkward, melodramatic moment, and he generally fails to inject the power required to lift Shahid from the stage into the audience’s hearts. A frenzied debate in which he condemns book censorship is the only moment when his performance moves from mildly engaging to excellent.
The play’s progress deeper and further into fundamentalism is carefully drawn out, however; you hardly realise the danger until the slightly ridiculous Chad (
Nitin Kundra) is brandishing a cleaver inside a house besieged by racists, and no one’s laughing anymore. The mentality of the Islamic group of students that Shahid joins, with its mix of extremism and ideals, is beautifully handled with both humour and seriousness. Kureishi’s talent as a writer is evident, but sadly it is fully-formed characters that are the casualties of downsizing his novel into a script, as Shahid’s friends fail to connect with the audience as individuals, and skirt alarmingly around the very Asian stereotypes that the play is trying to avoid.
What is examined particularly well is identity crisis, a truly contemporary issue. British and Asian influences subtly contrast and merge through all the characters, regardless of their allegiances. Shahid’s brother, Chili (
Robert Mountford), has made a suitable marriage within the Pakistani community, yet is in cahoots with a former skinhead, while Riaz ( Alexander Andreou), identifying ostensibly with his Pakistani heritage, still arrays himself in an expensive Paul Smith shirt and tartan trousers.
Debate is intelligently alive and well in
The Black Album, but it’s a classic case of preaching to the converted. Theatre-goers by their very nature do not need to be convinced that censorship of the arts is a bad thing, and looking around the auditorium, no one looks as if they’re taking a quick break from racially abusing someone in the street. The play is entertaining despite its flaws, and undoubtedly funny, but sadly there is nothing new to be learnt here.
- by Eleanor Hollington
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p... ATG acquires Broadway's largest theatre The Foxwoods, home of Spider-Man In another significant step for transatlantic theatre relations, the UK’s biggest theatre owner ... 1st Night Photos: Strictly stars party at Relatively Speaking first night Strictly stars Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen and Artem Chigvintsev were among those celebrating ... Matilda on Broadway wins five Drama Desk Awards The Broadway transfer of Matilda The Musical has won five gongs at the 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards... Pulitzer winner : Islam is 'ripe territory' for drama Ayad Akhtar Ayad Akhtar's play Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, receives its UK premiere ... Michael Coveney: New York honours Matilda with five big awards First blood in the New York awards contest went to Matilda last night, as the show walked off with... Opening: Relatively Speaking, Southwark Playhouse's Tanzi Libre & NT Shed's Bullet Catch Among this week's major London theatre openings, in the West End and further afield, are Relatively ... Young Vic's award-winning Doll's House transfers to West End Carrie Cracknell's critically acclaimed Young Vic production of A Doll's House, using an adaptatio... Let It Be extends booking at Savoy until Jan 2014 Let It Be, the concert show based on the music of The Beatles, has extended its run at the Savoy... : Theatre 'flops' ripe for reinvention Ten of the Best Defining a theatre 'flop' is no straightforward task. A general rule of thumb could be that it mak...