The Indian subcontinent seems to loom large in my reviewer’s mind right now after last week’s expedition to the North Wall for Correspondence. Tonight we are back at the Playhouse for Rifco Arts’ superb Britain’s Got Bhangra.
We meet our hero, Twinkle, as he is about to make the great leap from India to Britain to strike it big in the 1970s. He has the immigrant blues though, and needs to deal with success, money and his love back in the motherland. What is striking about the production is its unfussy use of, and clear love for, the musical form.
To explain: new musicals commonly fall into the trap of putting their subject material before the story. It would have been easy for Britain's Got Bhangra to be a dull meditation on the immigrant experience with ciphers for characters. Instead, from the very first note we understand that we are safely in the land of the musical where the lead follows his dream to be a bhangra star, we have a fairy godmother, a brothers/family motif, Sophiya Haque’s cracking Yoko Ono-esque bad girl chewing up the set and happy ending just around the corner. We are at such a stage with new British musicals that it feels odd that so few get the basics right and offer their audience such a riotous night out.
The score is fleet and exciting, shifting between bhangra, funk, rap and musical fare. As it turns out, Bhangra is perfectly suited to life inside a musical. The pace never drops below the frenetic with simple staging and fluent direction. The chorus are very funny and all the leads sing beautifully as they inhabit their characters. Special praise to Natasha Lewis and Arun Blair-Mangat for their adept handling of the slower tunes.
Britain's Got Bhangra is comparable to that first blast of hot air when stepping out of the airport on holiday. By the 2nd encore the thing had gathered so much energy that they could have kept us dancing all night. Bloody bloody wonderful.
- Josh Tomalin