Pros: A lively, energetic cast perfectly capturing the spirit of the 1970s.
Cons: An over used storyline based on an overrated book take the edge off a competent production.
Ah the 1970s; the time that style forgot; platform heels, tank tops, flairs and glam rock; an era of social and political upheaval; strikes, three day weeks and the fuel crisis – happy days. If you’re old enough to remember the 1970s (yes, me if you must know) it’ll stir some warm memories; if you’re too young to remember (well done you) you’ll still get something out of Anita and Me, adapted from the book and film of the same name.
Anita and Me, tells the story of Meena, British born and bred, and desperate to fit in; but from a proud Punjabi family determined to preserve their culture. Meena rails against her parents and befriends the confident, popular Anita as a means of acceptance in the neighbourhood. Her family disapprove of Anita’s influence and Meena’s nose is pushed further out of joint by the imminent arrival of a new sibling. Set in the fictional West Midlands mining town of Tollington, a glorious mix of characters add light and light and shade to a familiar plot. We have Auntie Shaila and Uncle Amman bragging about their pile in Wolverhampton; Mrs Worrell, kindly next door neighbour; the weird but oddly dangerous Sam, boyfriend of Anita and the flighty, flirtatious Mrs Ormerod.
The production is overall very well designed with an eye for authentic period detail. For example, Sam rolls up on a chopper bike with a red Gola sports bag on his shoulder; and a coal bunker cleverly turns into a pick’n’mix sweet counter.
Whilst the play is well written there is nothing startling or innovative about the storyline; an Asian family struggling to reconcile the past with the present; strong willed children eager to embrace western lifestyles, though not wishing to upset their parents. The study of such culture clash has been done and re-done on countless occasions much to the same effect (Bend it like Beckham and East is East cover the same ground). There is however is the added novelty of some really good songs thrown in, Save The Heathen Souls being the pick of the bunch.
Nothing more could be asked of the cast who were excellent throughout the performance; Mandeep Dhillon as Meena; Jalleh Alizadeh as Anita and Janice Connelly as Mrs Worrell were all excellent. But it does feel a bit like an episode of any number of soap operas featuring Asian families; therein lays the weakness; the story gets continually hamstrung by clichés undermining an other solid production.
Author: Meera Syal
Adaptation: Tanika Gupta
Music & Lyrics: Ben and Max Ringham and Tanika Gupta
Director: Roxana Silbert
Producer: Birmingham Reparatory Theatre
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking link: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/anita-and-me
Booking until: 21 November 2015