This new stage adaptation of Meera Syal’s novel transports the audience back to a time of chopper bikes, glam rock and Jackie magazine, of rapid social, economic and industrial change. The story follows Meena, the 13 year old daughter of the only Punjabi family in a small Black Country mining village. During a summer holiday, Meena and best friend Anita experience the trials of growing up and finding their identity within their own circle of family and friends and in the context of the world around them.
Mandeep Dhillon (Meena) and Jalleh Alizadeh (Anita) lead a strong cast, portraying the two teenagers with such realism that you forget that you are watching adults in the roles. Together they are a powerful duo and along with Megan McCormick - completely believable as Anita’s younger sister Tracey – they draw the audience in to their street playground den, racing from humorous and cringe-worthy moments of teenage angst to touching episodes and dramatic arguments.
There are fine performances across the whole cast particularly Ayesha Dharker (Daljit), Ameet Chana (Shyam) and Kiren Jogi (Aunty Shaila). Local comedienne Janice Connolly brings a delightful mix of comedy and pathos to the role of neighbour Mrs Worrall, while Yasmin Wilde gives a beautifully touching performance as Meena’s Grandmother.
Yet, to single out anyone seems unfair, for it is in the community feel of the production that the show excels; the group of supporting local actors blending easily with the professional principal company. The energy and shared enjoyment across the cast is palpable and results in a production that races along from start to finish.
Ironically, Roxana Silbert’s excellent staging and characterisation brings a realism to the production that seems almost unreal to modern audiences. Indeed, there were comments in the interval about the over-the-top use of the strong Black Country dialect – “Did people really speak like that?” ... The answer: Absolutely, they did! Delve in to any area of the Black Country today and you can still hear it.
The ‘back-to-basics’ set design with its street wall advertising and washing lines; the flares, house coats and I Love David Essex tshirts; the references to pick ‘n’ mix, letters to Cathy and Claire, the original music mixed with excerpts of glam rock classics – all combine to conjure up an image of the Midlands in the 1970s. Yet, beneath it all is a story of youth, belonging and a search for identity that is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.
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