Review: Britain's Got Bhangra, at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
This show from Rifco Arts may be the first bhangra musical, but in many respects it treads very familiar ground.
Spanning more than 30 years from the Queen’s Jubilee to this year’s general election (events like the Tory and Labour landslides in 1979 and 1997 are ticked off in passing) it charts the rise and fall of bhangra star Twinkle.
Arriving in late-70s Southall determined to make a living for his new bride back in India, he stumbles unexpectedly into a career as a wedding singer, catches the first wave of bhangra but has his head turned by success and undergoes a long and painful decline into alcoholism before the show finds its sentimental resolution.
Unfortunately this far-from-original plot is delivered at a plodding pace, and a major disappointment about this overlong show is that, apart from a passing reference to travelling around the country in a beaten-up van, it doesn’t really convey anything about what being in a band during this period of rapidly evolving Anglo-Asian music actually felt like.
There is a live band, but it’s squeezed into a little room at the back of the stage where it is glimpsed only occasionally.
This seems an opportunity lost – particularly when Twinkle is played by Shin, lead singer of chart-topping Birmingham band DCS, which was formed as long ago as 1983 and so has spanned almost the entire era.
He has a wonderful voice, which in the first half goes some way to offset the fact that he is rather obviously too mature to be a plausible young man embarking on a life of hard graft in a far-off land. His all-round performance is much more integrated and persuasive after the interval.
Twinkle’s nemesis is Shindie, a ruthless businesswoman played with suitably chic villainy by Sophiya Haque, and Arun Blair-Mangat gives an attractive performance as Twinkle’s previously unsuspected son who turns up in the second act.
The cast works hard, there are some good voices in addition to Shin’s and there is a brilliant closing number which had much of the audience on its feet. But from a dramatic point of view it’s distinctly clunky and you can never really lose sight of the fact that this is bhangra on a budget.
Running time: Two hours, 35 minutes. Until June 5.