Touring – reviewed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
Meera Syal is a name I have long been familiar with as a performer, as a playwright, I had no experience of her handiwork. Anita and Me is set in 1970s and yet the topics, issues and heart of the piece are all remarkably current given the political times we are living in. Racism, multi-cultural neighbourhoods and prejudices are all there and portrayed by a strong cast who work solidly as an ensemble.
There’s a selection of musical numbers interspersed throughout which makes the production a fine showcase for the actors and lyrically the song are entertaining and poignant. The set is extraordinarily authentic with its back to back houses and an over-riding feel that this is taking place in the Black Country, in addition of the Black Country accents of course! Wolverhampton couldn’t be a better starting venue for the tour of this production.
Shobna Gulati as Daljit was an attraction for me personally as I know her television work and therefore was eager to see her tread the boards. She didn’t disappoint, Gulati has a natural stage presence. She was a fine choice for the role of Meena’s (Aasiya Shah) mother who was still adjusting to life in the UK as well as expecting a baby and coping with her teenage daughter’s angst. Robert Mountford was equally well cast as Shyam, Meena’s father, there was an easy father/daughter relationship between Mountford and Shah.
Shah made for a cocky, mixed up teen, writing to Cathy and Claire at Jackie magazine, sporting a beige cardigan over her head to enable her to pretend that she had blonde hair and trailing after Anita (Laura Aramayo) like an over-enthusiastic puppy dog. The friendship between the two girls develops and presents as the running theme, Anita is played mischievously by Aramayo and she also wears the character’s vulnerabilities on her sleeve. That seems to be important as it seems to be vital that the audience understands why Anita acts the b*tch, the tart and aloof. It’s not difficult to comprehend why Anita is a tearaway when we meet her mum, Deidre (Rebekah Hinds). Deidre is the victim of domestic abuse for a start off. It’s no surprise that Meena’s family fear that her new best friend is a bad influence.
As the story unfolds and the friendship builds and unravels there is much hilarity in the form of Nanima (Rina Fatania), who is a real scene stealer, comic timing to rival any comedienne. Sam Cole plays Sam Lowbridge, love interest, naïve and destructive, Cole appeared to connect with the essence of the part. Similarly, Claire Worboys gave a natural and believable performance as his mother. Rebekah Hinds was not only superbly bawdy as Deidre, but she was delightful as Mrs Ormerod, Corner Shop owner with a friend in the Lord and complete lack of cultural awareness. My favourite character was that of Mrs Worrall, every community needs a mother figure who can see all sides and who brings calm and warmth in their wake. Therese Collins was on point with what I saw as an integral role and I felt that she provided a stoic heart within the ensemble.
If you don’t mind some f’ing and blinding, you enjoy Bhangra mixed with Morris Dancing and you take pleasure in watching a cleverly constructed piece of observational comedy drama, this is for you. When can I go and see it again?!