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Break the Floorboards (tour - Watford, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
You can't really compare previous productions from Rifco Arts with Break the Floorboards, the new piece from Pravesh Kumar and Yasmeen Khan. This one is billed as a dance drama, but – good as Kumar's street dance-inspired sequences are – it is the drama which dominates.

We're in one of those small towns with diminishing employment and an ethnically mixed population; the sort of place which is on White supremacist target lists. The family on which we concentrate is a single-parent one. That's ordinary perhaps in Western eyes but the mother of Zain and Adil feels despised and criticised by her own Muslim community. Actually, her husband simply walked out on her, trading her in for a younger model (as the saying has it).

Of the two teenage boys, Adil (Nathan Clarke) is politically aware and deeply resentful that he cannot be the breadwinner, the man of the house. Zain (Daniel Uppal) is still at school; his mother wants him to qualify for university and a prestigious job after it. Zain would just like to dance, which for his mother and wider community is not an option.

So here we have a sort of British Asian variation on Billy Elliot. Zain's attempt to fulfil his dream, his mother's isolation and the fears for the future voiced by Adil and his friends are played out against the menacing rhetoric of the EGBDP and its threatened town-centre march. But Zain finds an ally – dance teacher Sophie (Carrie Baxter), a girl who has no intention of letting anyone get away with anything.

Designers Libby Watson and Mark Dymock have provided a sharp, bright and flexible acting area against which the various short scenes play out. Uppal is a dancer, rather than an actor by training, but he brings Zain's personal dilemmas to the foreground as well as providing some spectacular moves.

Baxter is the essence of no-nonsense get-up-and-go and there's a delicious portrait of the mother by Sheena Patel which all-but steals the show. Clarke catches Adil's intransigence and shows us what lies behind it. As Harmeet, the boys' Sikh friend stuck in his family's all-purpose corner-shop, dance captain Alim Jayda is an energetic presence. Original music is by Sumee Chopra.


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