Pros: Fun and lively musical numbers performed by a great multi-skilled cast with warmth and heart.
Cons: Some jokes verged on the offensive for my taste, and I thought the play might benefit from being a little bit shorter.
The Theatre Royal is tucked away behind the sprawling shopping centres and bus stations of Stratford; for myself coming up to the venue and bar with its buzzing community felt like a welcome discovery.
So, what to discover behind the façade. The Infidel is a stage adaptation of the film of the same name, written by David Baddiel and released in 2010. It tells the story of Mahmoud Nassir, a British Muslim man who discovers that he is adopted, and subsequently that he is also Jewish. The play thus follows his journey of personal discovery, and the identity crisis that he must face.
Kev Orkian’s performance as Mahmoud is an absolute highlight of the evening. He portrays an instantly likeable character, and there’s a real sense of wanting to go on this journey with him and hoping the outcome is positive. The relationship between Mahmoud and his wife Saamiya (Mina Anwar) is believable and familiar, and there is a wonderful chemistry between them. There is also a great rapport between Mahmoud and his Jewish neighbour Lenny, played by Andrew Paul: previously embroiled in a feud, the two then develop a close friendship, sharing experiences of what it means to be Jewish. One amusing scene in which they attend a Bar Mitzvah together was particularly memorable and funny.
Another real stand out performance is from Melanie Marshall, who switches between playing the Burka wearing, celebrity gossip obsessed Muna – the family’s best friend – and the hilarious care worker Zadie. Her singing voice is incredible and her comedic timing is a joy throughout.
There are some fantastic lyrical moments in the music including the ‘I am a Muslim’ opener, which is lively, attention-grabbing and fun, and the ensemble work of the small cast, which is quick and clever. The set mainly focuses on a changing series of doors taking us from scene to scene: the Nassir’s; their neighbour Lenny’s; and the care home where Mahmoud discovers his birth father resides. It’s an effective style and works in a production which moves very quickly from one location to another.
There were a few jokes throughout the evening which just didn’t work. Some of the racist characterisations were referenced and made into a joke in themselves, but the ‘gay presumptions’ when a character is about to make a declaration are old fashioned and unnecessary. There is a line between these racial and sexual themes being tongue in cheek and funny, and offensive and needless, which, unfortunately, was crossed a couple of times.
Overall, this is a fun and entertaining evening, with warm performances and themes at its heart, and some great musical moments.
Book and Lyrics: David Baddiel
Music: Erran Baron Cohen
Director: David Baddiel and Kerry Michael
Booking Until: 15 November 2014
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking Link: www.stratfordeast.com