Writer: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Director: Pravesh Kumar
Reviewer: Richard Hall
Having previously visited the Oldham Coliseum with the Bollywood inspired musical, Britain’s Got Bhangra and the comedy-drama Happy Birthday Sunita; Rifco Theatre, one of the UK’s leading Asian Theatre Companies return with a bittersweet comedy that will strike a chord with anyone who has suffered and survived the agonies and traumas of adolescence.
Inspired by the true story of Director Pravesh Kumar’s disabled cousin who died at an early age
from health complications; Dishoom, conceived by Kumar and writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, is an affectionate and bold coming of age story that like Beautiful Thing and East and East before it shows a close-knit group of young people confronting their individual hopes and fears against a background of bigotry and racial prejudice.
Set in the summer of 1978 in a provincial town, not too far from London, the play’s protagonist, Simon, a wheelchair-bound teenager lives with his widowed father and his battleaxe of a Grandmother. As he waits nervously for his exam results, Simon is supported by his friends to break free from his disability and gain his independence. When his cousin Baljit comes to stay Simon discovers a surprising ally as she introduces him, courtesy of a newly acquired video player, to the classic Bollywood adventure film, Sholay. As they become immersed in the film and act out their favourite scenes they begin to find their inner superheroes and set out to change the world forever.
Kaur Bhatti has written an absorbing and compelling play that whilst focussing on the individual concerns of British Asian teenagers in the 1970s also shows the effect that the growth of the National Front and rising unemployment has on them and society at large. Simon spurred on by his cousin soon finds himself at loggerheads with one of his friends who joins the National Front and another who is challenged to do so. Although at the end of the play nothing much appears to have really changed for Simon and Baljit they realise as they go their separate ways that they now possess the courage to face the future and whatever it may hold.
Kumar clearly has a passion for telling this story; his clear and free-flowing direction never allows the drama and pace to flag. This charming and spirited production is both captivating and endearing. It is brilliantly brought to life by Neil Irish’s imaginative and impressive set which superbly recreates the drudgery of a 1970’s beleaguered provincial town and the escapist, cartoonish elements of Simon and Baljit’s fantasy capers. Co-produced by the Oldham Coliseum and the Watford Palace Theatre this is a show that both first time and seasoned theatre goers will enjoy in equal measure.
The young cast are led by disabled actor Bilal Khan making his stage debut in the role of Simon. It is a beautifully judged and nuanced performance that belies his relatively young years and lack of professional experience. Gurkiran Kaur, who also doubles as Simon’s mother in flashback scenes, is deliciously goofy and nerdy as Baljit. These two actors are a real delight to watch; they have superb onstage chemistry and switch effortlessly from moments of high pitched comedy to intense emotional drama. The supporting cast are all excellent, especially Seema Bowri as Simon’s embittered Grandmother and Omar Ibrahim as Dad, who also delights in a series of other cameos including a highly comic turn as a fraudulent religious mystic.
The title of the play, Dishoom, refers to the sound of a punch or bullet made in 1970’s Bollywood movies. Like a speeding bullet, Rifco Theatre with this hugely enjoyable and touching production continues to hit the mark.
Reviewed on Sat 6 October 2018 | Image: Contributed