Book: Shahid Iqbal Khan and Sâmir Bhamra
Music and Lyrics: Robby Khela
Director: Sâmir Bhamra
Reviewer: James Garrington
This week at the Belgrade we find the world premiere of Stardust, which is billed as the “first South Asian-led production to depict a same-sex marriage on a British stage.” It may seem strange to a white British audience to realise how many cultures exist where being gay is still taboo, despite same-sex marriage being legal in the UK for many years now.
Amar is a British Asian singer, and he is struggling. He’s struggling to make his mark as a performer, and he’s struggling to hide his sexuality from his fans. Then he discovers the music of Amor, “the Whitney Houston of Bollywood,” and his life changes. He starts getting visions, seeing snippets of Amor’s life and her death 30 years previously. When he tries to sign up with Amor’s former husband and record producer, things take an explosive turn.
The play draws on some of the traditional aspects of Bollywood movies – love, reincarnation and triggers which bring back lost memories. Despite the apparent Bollywood theme though, there’s little in the way of what some may expect when the word “Bollywood” features so often in the billing – big, colourful dance routines and so on. This is overwhelmingly a play about a modern pop artist and his difficulties with being gay in an Asian culture which sticks by tradition. As a result, most of the music is pop – R&B and ballads – and most of the choreography that accompanies it is modern too.
The original music is written by Robby Khela, who also plays Amar. It is all very good with some memorable moments, with catchy tunes and meaningful lyrics with Unashamed and In Your Eyes being particular highlights. The choreography by Dr Leena Patel is good and well-delivered by the cast. The vocal work is strong too, with particularly powerful performances by Khela, Harriette Mullen (Tara) and Sophie Kandola (Amor).
The company seems to have been assembled with an eye on vocal talent and dance ability, and it shows – but in too many cases the acting skills don’t match up. For a piece that is fundamentally a play, too much is inconsistent with unconvincing emotions and little chemistry between characters. It comes across as though some cast members haven’t entirely bought into their character, their motivation and their place in the story they are telling, and so are unable to deliver it and connect to the audience – which in a small space like the B2 is a problem.
Neither the script nor the staging help matters either. The storyline is confusing until you start to realise that the lights above the stage – which adopt many patterns through the piece – are here actually showing a date and we’re in a flashback scene. Some of the dialogue is unconvincing and some of the exits and scene changes too slow with little happening to cover them.
There is no doubt that this is a story that is worth telling, and that the musical elements of the play are strong, but more focus is needed on the dialogue and acting performances if this production is to really make its mark.
Runs Until 21 September 2019 | Image: Hitz Rao