Hanif Kureishi's highly acclaimed and complex novel about cultural identity and sexual exploration against a backdrop of political and social upheaval in the 1970s is adapted and condensed here by the SNAP Theatre Company.
Karim (Sajan Uddin) is a young mixed race Londoner. He’s excited by his new-found sexual freedom and his rejection of society's rules. Via her forth-right opinions, his friend and one-time lover, the completely disenfranchised Jamila (Rubina Bux), tries to persuade him to be less politically apathetic. Meanwhile, Karim’s liberal father Sanjiv Hayre has discovered free loving but remains loyal to his beloved son.
Roger Parsley's adaptation and Andy Graham's direction fails to get over many hurdles from the moment the curtain rises to its close. The novel is thought-provoking, humorous and sexually frank. Here though, the narrative feels stilted and, at times, completely lifeless.
The least interesting parts of the novel have been replicated as a series of disjointed scenes held together by Mark Morreau's overused video design. (Why is a video required to display nothing more than a shop sign, for example?)
The performances range from fully rounded but wasted (Uddin's marvellous) Karim to totally ineffectual (Bux's Jamila). Bux shouts her dialogue without passion or any sense of depth; as a result, her character is reduced to a stereotype whose messages have about as much impact as car bumper sticker slogans. Elsewhere, Ivanhoe Norona fails to provide any comic relief as Changez, Jamila's would-be husband. (His accent alone is cringe-worthy, I'm afraid.)
And what of the sex scenes much talked about in the TV series adaptation? Here they’re rendered surprisingly coy – more reminiscent of a Carry On on movie than anything else. There’s certainly little eroticism to be found in the diluted projection of a threesome onto, yep, that video screen again.
Nancy Sumran’s set - consisting of a TV and a couple of mini platforms on wheels – is indicative of the simplistic approach taken with this Snap production. And the stifled applause on the night I attended confirmed others’ reactions. Kureishi’s novel of The Buddha Of Suburbia asked important questions about society. The only question raised by this stage version is: why bother?