The Infidel – The Musical (Theatre Royal Stratford East)

David Baddiel’s screen-to-stage musical fails to live up to expectations

The cast of The Infidel
The cast of The Infidel
© Francis Loney
The Infidel – The Musical is a stage adaptation of the 2010 movie written by David Baddiel. It tells the story of Mahmud Nasir (amiable Kev Orkian), a moderate Muslim facing a religion-based identity crisis. He agrees to adopt the guise of a more devout Muslim to convince the Islamic fundamentalist cleric Arshad Alman Aslam (played in pantomime villain style by Alexander Andreou), step-dad of his son’s girlfriend, that his step-daughter will be marrying into a good Muslim family. In the meantime, however, Mahmud discovers that he is adopted, and was in fact born to Jewish parents.

Mahmud secretly explores his newly-found Jewish roots with the help of Jewish London cabbie Lenny Goldberg (Andrew Paul), who teaches him to say "oy vey" authentically before taking him to a Bar Mitzvah to test out his Yiddish skills. Mahmud also traces his birth father to a local care home, but will he get to meet him before it’s too late? And what will his religious crisis mean for his family, his son's future marriage and his own sense of self?

"Rhyming Allah with fatwa, and Qur'an with Sudan doesn't take much imagination"

The show has a good cast who do the best they can with what they've been given, but herein lies the problem: what they've been given just isn't all that good. The show is full of religious stereotypes which could have been used to create intelligent or ironic humour (it's an obvious comparison, but The Book of Mormon, anyone?) but which are mostly used for lazy, clichéd laughs. How funny is a song about Jewish and Muslim men bonding over circumcision? Not very, it turns out. One exception is a song that presents the burqa as a way for a woman to tempt her Muslim man, rather than a sign of oppression – this is accompanied by some satisfyingly sassy disco choreography.

Musicals live and die on the strength of their songs, and the songs here (music by Erran Baron Cohen) are a scattergun of styles – gospel, ballad, ska, disco and rap all feature – and largely unmemorable. Whilst well-sung by the cast, the lyrics by Baddiel are disappointing, and not especially funny. Rhyming Allah with fatwa, and Qur'an with Sudan doesn't take much imagination, and there are too many moments where the words feel awkwardly crowbarred in to fit the music.

To borrow the catchiest lyric of the night: you can "put a fatty-fatty-fatty-fatty-fatwa" on me, but it won’t change my mind that this show is more of a miss than a hit.

The Infidel – The Musical has been extended to Saturday 15 November. Tickets for performances from 3 November will be on sale from midday on 23 October.