“Anita & Me”
Nottingham Theatre Royal
Nottingham Theatre Royal
“Anita & Me” is the debut, semi-autobiographical novel by comedian/actor Meera Syal. The play has been adapted by Tanika Gupta and directed by Roxana Silbert.
Set in the 1970’s in a fictional Black Country mining village, Tollington, and the times they are a changing. The village mine closed, a new motorway is due to be built, a school is to be pulled down and a Punjabi family has moved in to the village.
Relationships are forged and one of the more unlikely ones is between 13 year old Meena and the slightly older, in many ways, Laura. Meena is Punjabi and Anita is a blond, mini-skirted young white girl.
The play doesn’t pull any punches surrounding issues like racism, violence and immigration, but does it in such a way that there’s laughter surrounding the seriousness of the topics. Although this was written in the mid 1990’s and set in the 1970’s, the issues highlighted are still around today and by shrouding the seriousness of the topics in humour doesn’t sweeten the pill, making it easier to swallow, but it also makes this play an easy watch. there are several times where you feel a little bit uncomfortable laughing because you know that really you shouldn't laugh under normal circumstances.
For anyone of my age, and grew up in the 1970’s, it’s a lovely melancholy trip down memory lane with Top Of The Pops, chip shops, fish fingers and the youth culture of the time. Many a young girl used the Jackie magazine as a virtual crutch. The agony aunt section, the picture love stories, the dreams they encourage within those pages, the pin up pop stars of the time and the crushes the girls had on their paper heroes. All brought back to life in this play.
It also blurs the cultures and by the end of the play shows the emergence of going forward with both cultures, and maybe acceptance of both.
Starring Shobna Gulati (Coronation Street and Dinnerladies among her credits) she plays Meena's mother, adopting the archetypal speech and attitudes of the Punjabi woman. A sensitive portrayal balancing the traditional with the modern 1970's. While Shobna is the most well known of the cast, she doesn't hog the stage and the limelight.
Meena, played by 19 year old Aasiya Shah is wonderful as the 13 year old girl bridging the cultures, trying to fit in to the community, breaking family ranks and making friends with the wayward Anita.A joy to watch and completely believable.
Laura Aramayo (Anita) is another totally believable character. Her hormones are racing through her veins and feels that Meena is, at times cramping her style, slightly jealous of Sam's attention being focused on Meena. The ending sees a different less confident side of Anita, showing a different side of laura's acting.
Sam Cole (Sam) plays the bully boy with his eye on Meena. More a case of forbidden fruit though for this character. he delivers many of the often shocking lines of the racist side of his character. He looks the part and you wouldn't want to meet Sam, as the character Sam alone at night.
Tom Oakley plays Sam's partner in crime buddy, as well as Ned, formerly known as Hairy Ned, who provides the live keyboards on stage.
Meena's Dad, Shyam is played by Robert Mountford and a solid performance from Robert. Solid, committed and protective of his family.
Therese Collins (Mrs Worrall), Rebekah Hinds (Mrs Ormerod), Claire Worboys (Sam's mother) and Megan McCormick (Tracey/Sandy) complete the women of the village.
Aaron Virdee (Uncle Amman/ Mr Bhatra), Humera Syed (Pinky), Sejal Keshwala (Aunty Sheila) compliment Meena's side of the family.
Almost stealing the show though is the wonderfully comical Rina Fatania as Nanima, Meena's Grandma. What a great character role and almost similar to the role played by Meera Syal in The Kumars, Like Meera as Granny Kumar, out of the stage role, Rina looks completely different.
The set is a work of art. It's almost like sitting in someone's back yard in a row of terrace houses. This also converts into several other scenes including the side of a canal.Bob Bailey is the man responsible for this amazing set as well as the wonderful costumes.
The choreography is also worthy of a mention mixing Bollywood glamour with some manic retro moves, thanks to Ann Yee.
The accents are also well executed yow know, adding another veneer of realism to the play.
This show is pure joy. Well written and well observed and still manages to cause ripples of shock with some of the language and the actions of some of the characters, even this far sown the line. Some things though seem not to change and it's always worthy to remind us of the racism and bigotry that still exists today.
“Anita & Me” is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 18 March 2017.