To parody or not to parody? If not exactly the question, it's doubtless a tricky one. And it's one that Sudha Buchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, the creative forces behind Tamasha Theatre's Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral, don't seem quite decided on.
This musical, now back for a third run at the Lyric Hammersmith, is adapted from Rajshri Productions' blockbuster Hindi film, Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!. Knowing that, I was expecting an amusing but light-hearted spoof of the screen genre. And the ingredients are certainly there. From the sepia-toned lighting to the rickety peach-marbleised set, flowing costumes and tinny, sitar-infused music, this production shouts Bollywood. But rather than sending up the original, all of these elements conspire to cheapen the production.
Worst of all is the pre-recording of the fourteen songs of the title. Quite why this is done is unclear. The songs are still performed by the original cast members and, even without having to sing live while running around, none of them are blessed with particularly strong voices - so, no gain there. And again, their earnest lipsynching simply adds to an overall low-quality feel.
But my main problem goes back to the parody pickle. For most of the evening, my companion and I watched proceedings uneasily, wondering whether it was appropriate or not to laugh. Only with the dry-ice dance number during the final scene of Act One does Fourteen Songs seem to poke real unabashed fun at its film fellows.
Amongst the cast, the henpecking auntie (played on the night by Shobu Kapoor) raises a few most welcome chuckles, as does Dinesh Shukla's eager-to-please but mischievous servant. Elsewhere, Pushpinder Chani and Mala Ghedia are suitably amiable and attractive as duty-bound young lovers Prem and Nisha.
As someone unfamiliar with Indian society, I do find it fascinating to witness the customs and rituals surrounding the weddings, the funeral and even everyday interchanges. And, generally, it's refreshing to see other races and cultures represented on stage - something Tamasha, as the UK's leading Asian touring company, should be applauded for.
But these cultural insights and clutch of pleasing performances don't compensate for a misspent opportunity here. Perhaps if director Landon-Smith quickened the slack pace, allowed her cast to indulge in some real over-the-top humour and canned the canned music, the result would be an appealing send-up. As it is, I fear the appeal of this Bollywood musical is limited.
- reviewed by Terri Paddock