Writer: Tanika Gupta from the book by Meera Syal
Director: Roxana Silbert
Reviewer: James Garrington
There are many well-known plays based around life in cities around the country: London, Liverpool, Glasgow… but the Black Country? You can probably count them on the fingers of one hand. Well, Anita And Me adds one to the list – and what an addition it is.
This world premiere of Anita And Me is adapted from the well-loved book by Meera Syal, which was heavily influenced by her own upbringing in a mining community in the Black Country during the 1970s. It is a story with a number of different themes – racism and culture clashes included – but at its heart it is a coming-of-age tale about the friendship between two very different girls.
Meena (Mandeep Dhillon) comes from a Punjabi family, the only Asian family in the small, isolated village where they live. A few doors down the street lives Anita (Jalleh Alizadeh), a girl from a very different background – not only culturally, but also socially. Meena is educated, intelligent, and has a caring – if somewhat overbearing – family. Anita’s family are on the breadline, and she is a rebel – but she is essentially that cool person everyone wants to be like. Meena has a desire to fit in, and she has what is almost a crush on Anita in her wish to be like her, and to fit in – until she realises that fitting in means denying her own family and culture, and giving up her opportunities when she has to decide where her future lies.
Meena is very much the rebellious teenager, fighting against the rules her parents try to impose. Dhillon carries it off well with a nice sense that it’s a bit for show, and that deep-down she is happy to conform. Alizadeh’s Anita provides a good contrast as a girl who has been abandoned and craves some rules in her life though on the surface she revels in the freedom. Between them, these two carry the play, and carry it beautifully, with a lot of energy – they’re young girls, both experiencing bad influences in their lives, and you find yourself hoping that they will come through it. There is good support from Ameet Chana and Ayesha Dharker (reprising her rôle from the film version) as Meena’s parents, with Amy Booth-Steel as both Anita’s uncaring mother Deidre and the intolerant Mrs Ormerod. Janice Connolly comes across well as warm-hearted neighbour Mrs Worrall too, as does Joseph Drake as self-centred local racist Sam.
Tanika Gupta’s adaptation is full of humour and poignancy, and director Roxana Silbert has carried that onto the stage splendidly with some memorable moments including a bhangra-style My Old Man’s a Dustman and Morris dancing that suddenly develops a distinctly Asian twist. Some of the characters are a little stereotyped, but that adds to the joy of the play – and although the final few minutes may seem a little flat following some drama a few moments before, in a way that’s just like life moving on. Bob Bailey’s set design works nicely and flexibly as an authentic-looking row of terraced houses, and original music by Ben and Max Ringham is fitting although not particularly memorable.
Pieces with local accents and dialect often resonate far more with a local audience than one further afield. Whether Anita And Me will suffer from that remains to be seen – certainly the Midlands audience at press night took the play to its heart. This is not a play about the Black Country. It’s a play about two young girlsand a heart-warming tale about growing up and finding out who you are and who you want to be.
Runs until 24 October 2015 |Image: Ellie Kurttz