Last night I went to see Anita and Me at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.
I had really high hopes for this play. Based on the novel of the same name by Meera Syal, adapted by Tanika Gupta the play is billed as ‘hilarious’ and ‘very funny’ (excerpts from previous reviews) and being a huge fan of the rib achingly funny Goodness Gracious Me, I was expecting a real laugh a minute comedy.
I think maybe this was the problem. I went along expecting a light hearted, funny and easy to watch play, but actually, it’s quite a dark story, delving into topics like racism, poverty, domestic violence, postnatal depression and violent beatings. There was also a lot of racial slurs used, typical of the time but quite shocking to hear when you have been brought up knowing how awful those words are. I do know that they felt it was an integral part of the story line as it was so many people’s reality but it was still hard to listen to. Perhaps if I had been expecting all of that, I might have left with quite a different view.
The play is set in 1970s in the West Midlands, (there were some on point accents!), and features on the relationship between Meena, a twelve year old British Asian girl, (Aasiya Shah) and Anita, (Laura Aramayo) her troubled, slightly older neighbour. The cast also included Shobna Gulati, Robert Mountford, Claire Worboys, Sam Cole and Therese Collins to name but a few. It focuses on the dubious friendship as it develops and highlights the difficulties Meena faces when torn between her two cultures.
I think the problem for me was that they were trying to fit too much of the story in. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is to turn a full length novel into a two and a half hour play but the result this time was a dizzying amount of scene changes and never quite enough time spent getting to know and invest in the characters before it whisked onto another scene.
A good point about the play was the wonderful set, it was incredible and I thought the way they manipulated it to convey indoors and out so smoothly was genius, I absolutely love that they can take such a small area and turn it into so many different places, it really was a beautiful piece of workmanship.
There were some amazing performances from the cast as well, it was quite a small one, and so several of the actors were playing multiple characters, which they did incredibly well, seamlessly changing costumes in record time. This did add a little to detract from the hecticness of the evening though, trying to keep up with who was playing which character in each scene.
I also loved the musical aspect of the play, there was a wonderful pianist, Ned (Tom Oakley) who played beautifully on stage, and then there was also a selection of lively bhangra numbers with some wonderful dance routines that the entire cast had worked hard to learn. I can really imagine that, without the darker elements of the play, there might have been dancing in the aisles.
I think that possibly had I gone to see the play with a different mindset, or maybe I’d read the novel or having more of an idea of the story beforehand, I may have felt differently but as it was, I came away disappointed with the way the play whizzed through scenes barely giving you time to register what had happened, let alone emotionally invest in the characters.
That being said, there were some very funny bits and some stellar performances, the cast had clearly worked incredibly hard and really put their heart and soul into their performances, but my thoughts are that the play was trying to take too much from the book and to fit too much in. It almost seemed as though it should have been two plays. One an upbeat comic look at the culture clash with more emphasis on the musical aspect, the other an in depth look at the difficulties and horrendous racism they faced, with the darker underbelly of life in those times explored in more depth.
For the mood I was in last night though, I would much preferred to have more of the piano numbers, more songs and a pared down, more upbeat story that was easier to follow.
That is just me though, and there was a lot of laughter from the rest of the audience in places I didn’t laugh, so maybe I just wasn’t on the right wavelength!
If you would like to see for yourself, the play is on at The Everyman in Cheltenham until Saturday, (4.3.17), (you can buy your tickets for it here) before going on tour including Blackpool, Nottingham, Bradford and Edinburgh.
Are you going to see the play? Or maybe you seen it and you totally disagree with me, let me know either way!
I was given two tickets for the play in exchange for this frank and honest review.