Take an Indian father who yearns to be British, and a wife who just wants to
cha-cha. Chuck in a daughter demanding an arranged marriage and a son
obsessed with his scalpel. Add a big dollop of irony, mix it up, and you
have Bettina Gracias' Singh Tangos, a new production that tackles
the thorny issue of cultural identity.
Set in the 1980s, in a modest house in a London suburb, Mr Singh (Kaleem
Janjua) decides he and his wife (Siddiqua Akhtar) must take up ballroom
dancing in order to meet more English people. The couple's son, Tej (Imran
Ali), disapproves of this brazen activity, claiming their living room
practise sessions disturb his medical studies. Daughter Cassie (Pooja Ghai)
also scorns her parents' modern attitude and yearns to find a husband and
move away to India. But Mr Singh's attempts to have his wife integrate with
non-Asians backfires when she enters them for a local dance competition.
Faced with the prospect of public humiliation and losing his respectability
by dancing in public, he opts to fake illness.
Aside from provoking genuine belly laughs, the real beauty of Singh Tangos is its delicious sense of irony. At one point, Cassie berates her
parents for failing to berate her for staying out late and dressing in
Western clothing. Tej's enthusiasm to become a doctor - and his parents'
total disregard for his studies - is also a marvellous touch. Whether
black, white, brown or yellow, the Singhs' tempestuous family life cannot
fail to resonate.
As Mrs Singh, Akhtar is both confident and engaging, injecting real feeling,
energy and grace into her part. Although overshadowed by Akhtar's huge
stage presence, Janjua is also utterly convincing as the proud and plumy Mr
Singh. As quarrelling brother and sister, Ali and Ghai spark superbly off
each other, swearing and taunting like troopers. It's just a shame Ali's
angry outbursts are often too garbled to make out, and his accent keeps
sliding from Cockney into Brummie.
Set against David Blight's bland and static set, director Caroline Ward
keeps the stage busy and the pace slick. The second half does stutter at
times amid a slew of clunky short scenes. But this is easily forgotten after
seeing the joyously energetic dance finale, which leaves you glowing with