Pauline Flannery reviews BGB!

Pauline Flannery reviews BGB!

Monday, 17 October, 2011

Pauline Flannery reviews Rifco Arts’ touring production of Britain’s Got Bhangra at Hackney Empire Theatre.

One of the biggest Bhangra companies over the last decades has been Golden Star UK whose singer Malkit was born in the Punjab in 1963. It seems too much of a coincidence not to assume that the lead character ‘Twinkle’ in Britain’s Got Bhangra is in some way inspired by him.

Pauline Flannery reviews Rifco Arts’ touring production of Britain’s Got Bhangra at Hackney Empire Theatre

One of the biggest Bhangra companies over the last decades has been Golden Star UK whose singer Malkit was born in the Punjab in 1963. It seems too much of a coincidence not to assume that the lead character ‘Twinkle’ in Britain’s Got Bhangra is in some way inspired by him.

The production as a whole is a celebration of the joy of music, and it’s a winner. The piece is a deliciously wicked side-swipe at some common anomalies where a stiff upper lip gives rise to an arched eyebrow; the ironic reality for the immigrant in a land of hope and glory, the throwaway comment about Prince Charles’ marriage to Lady Di as being arranged, and the changing fortunes and colours of the various political sloganing from ‘things can only get better’ to ‘Britain’s Blooming.’ Attitudes and political sides change as quickly as jockey’s colours, depending on which horse is the main ride.

The plot centres on Twinkle who comes to London from the Punjab with aspirations to be a singer. It’s the time of Thatcherism, and Britain is in a cultural cold war as damp and chilly as the Punjab is sticky and hot. Twinkle drives a van with partner Rocky and the two sing at weddings and their temple until they are eventually signed up by ruthless business woman, Shinde, who sees Bhangra as fast bucks. From there over three decades, fortunes soar or hit the dhol drums as Twinkle tries to remain faithful to a simple truth, to know who he is.

As Twinkle’s star shines or dims according to kismet, his character also signifies the waxing and waning fortunes of Bhangra music itself, a move from the simplicity and truthfulness of Punjabi folklore to world music status. The 1980s were its golden age, and they were also an explosive time for British/Asian cultural identity.

The production is first class throughout, with enough energy to light up the National Grid. The timing is sharp and beautifully thought through, from big set pieces such as the harvest dance at the beginning to individual character traits such as DJ Lovely’s gyrating bling. Shin as Twinkle is the most versatile of performers and is ably served by the two women in his life; the understated but steely Jussi (Sohm Kapila) who gives a stunning rendition of ‘Goodnight Baby’ and the powerful reprise ‘Dhum Dhum’, and the fiery Shinde (the magnificent Natasha Jayetileke); talent just doesn’t begin to cover it.

The music by Sumeet Chopra is an eclectic mix of Bhangra with Hip Hop, Reggae, R&B, Soul and an underlying melodic score which hits the major and minor chords of the drama. It plays out naturally to its end, in a climactic Deus Machina moment, as Bibiji (the wonderful Rina Fatania) comes to sort out the humans once and for all.

A live band is seen within their dhol drum (or should that be droll drum) and when Shinde, Twinkle’s nemesis, sings the high octane number ‘I Got the Power’ she is brought low by a real power cut. There is something musically here for everyone, but it is its wit and playfulness that will stay long in the memory. The detail in design (Keith Khan) choreography (Andy Kumar) and concept (Pravesh Kumar) is as richly coloured as the best silk weave. As the first ever Bhangran musical Britain’s Got Bhangra got bite…It sings out the rhythm of life.