ANITA AND ME Tuesday 28th March 2017/ King’s Theatre Edinburgh 5 Stars: *****
Bhangra, bhajis and brilliance – the only triplet capable of describing such a wonderful show. ‘Anita and Me’ follows the journey of schoolgirl Meena and her parents, a larger-than-life Indian family from the 1970s who moved to Tollington in search of a better life. Unlike other large-scale productions it didn’t boast a whole feature of glitter cannons and pyrotechnic surprises, instead engaging its audience through convincing acting and an endearing plot – the story itself is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Meera Syal, and despite the cheerful choreography and costumes it was sadly remarkable just how relevant its darker themes of racial injustice and discrimination were today.
From the second you walk into the impressive auditorium of the King’s Theatre you are struck with Bob Bailey’s magnificent set of forty-foot houses and walls joined together to create a street. In one particularly memorable scene the houses rotated seamlessly to entirely reinvent the setting to a desolate and polluted riverside. Combined with the energetic opening number, the tone was set from the start and maintained well throughout. Whilst I would argue that the production was a play with songs instead of a musical, special mention must be given to Rebekah Hinds’ (Mrs Ormerod/ Deidre) hilarious and enjoyable solo in the sweet-shop scene. Overall the play progressed smoothly, carefully balancing the more intense and slow-paced dialogues with a sari-packed dance or a catchy song to keep the audience engaged. In fact, the only criticism I had was the recurring idea of the Agony Aunt – on several occasions the stage was cleared save for Aasiya Shah (Meena) under a spotlight, singing acapella to the local newspaper to solve her problems.
Whilst, in theory ,the idea was nice, allowing the audience to understand the problems first-hand from the protagonist’s uncensored point of view, in practice they were awkward and did a great injustice to Shah, who had otherwise given a convincing and powerful performance. The actors were extremely well-cast, and though it took me a little while to get on the wavelength of the West Midlands accent, the play was delivered with endless enthusiasm and aplomb. Rina Fatania as the over-bearing Nanima stole the show with her razor-sharp timing and hilarious mannerisms, portraying the Indian grandmother. On more than one occasion I was forced to put my drink down in fear of spitting it onto the gentleman in front during a fit of laughter. ‘Anita and Me’
Anita and Me’ comes to Edinburgh at the end of its two-and-a-half-month UK tour, and I would highly recommend it before it ends. Rarely does a play strike the balance between humorous and emphatic so well, and I left the theatre having received a very strong message. It comes as no shock, therefore, that the original novel is on many readings lists nationwide and has made an appearance on the GCSE syllabus. The cast and crew alike should be extremely proud of their endeavours, and I have no doubt they will each go onto many future successes.