Friday, 2 June 2017
Theatrical Review: Miss Meena and the Masala Queens
I had the pleasure of receiving an invite to view and review Rifco Art's latest production, Miss Meena and the Masala Queens. From the first email to the last, I must mention the efficiency, professionalism and flexibility of Gurpreet Braich, the Communications Manager. A special thank you, for all your help.
I arrived at Greenwich Theatre, London and was greeted by Karen, Audience Liaison, who handed me my program and spoke to me about her background and passions for Theatre. She was warm, welcoming and thoroughly engaging. Upon being seated, Libby Watson's stage set design was simple, but effective. A big, blue neon sign, flashing Miss Meena, with a small bar centre stage, with classic Bollywood tracks filled the auditorium. What really brings down the class of this minimalistic vision, was the eyesore industrial scaffolding, which sat out of place.
The play opens with Miss Meena behind the bar and an illusion scene, in which we see a gracefully portrayed dance to a classic Meena Kumari number, dressed in white, capturing the audience into the movement and emotions, as Miss Meena loses herself into the song, and taking the audience into the story of Miss Meena and the Masala Queens.
Harvey Virdi's script reveals Miss Meena, portrayed by Raj Ghatak, a British Asian drag queen, who is caught in an emotional turmoil of succumbing to her traditional family's cultured way of life and her own desire of drag, adding in the emotional guilt of her fellow Asian drag queens, who have found solace in the establishment, which bears her name. The masala filled twist comes in, with Miss Meena's time-honoured friend and employee, Munni, portrayed by Jamie Zubairi, wanting to commercialise and modernise the club, bringing it under further treat. To really bring the Bollywood home, we see the demands of Miss Meena's return to the family home staged by her brother, Kabir, portrayed by Ali Ariaie.
Like with any Rifco production, Parvesh Kumar does not fail to fill the stage with glitter amongst the guilt, sarees amongst the sins and glamour amongst the gloom! To bring their version of air and graces, into this well-intended issue of acceptance, we are introduced to Preeto and Pinky, portrayed by Harvey Dhadda and Vedi Roy, two construction workers with a painful passion, in every way possible, to splash their sparkles across the stage! Whilst both characters have clearly been written in to bring in the, pun-intended, lift between the seriousness of scenes, Virdi's truism script leaks across the clunky and clumsy characters in an almost hypocritical and ironic sense, mirroring every stereotypical cliché for cliché. What was touching to see though, was the two-scenes of seriousness, given to the duo, which could have developed into more, as could have the all the characters.
Despite stretching the production over 150 minutes, characters clearly remained undeveloped, indistinct and almost unfinished, leaving the audience with an underwhelming taste of the cast, though this could have been easily rectified by a stronger script. Whilst the various vapid tributes to both Bollywood and Mina Kumari were impotent, there was a flavoured kick of kitsch, thanks to Andy Kumar's costumes. This combined with a choice of classic numbers from over the years, including Pakezah's ‘Chalte Chalte', going to Mr India's 'Hawa Hawali' and coming into Agneepath's ‘Chikni Chameli’, brought an otherwise minimalist setting to life, completed by Mark Dymock's lighting design. What was quite evident was the dancing skillset and varying experience, between the characters, through their unsynchronised moments, clashes and confusion. Without a shadow of doubt, Roy's magical movements, enticing expressions and strong stage presence stole both my heart and the show, even with a small wardrobe malfunction, making this work in his favour!
I applaud Kumar's attempt to bring a taboo topic to theatre, as this was most needed and certainly I know from experience, that staging controversial themes is never without its challenges. However, having a thwart script, dripping with bored banality, laden and limp, limits not only the actors, but the entire production too, from breaking barriers. In fact, what Miss Meena and her Masala Queens did offer vey well, was classic clichés, non-provocative drag acts and camp choreography. Sad, as this an issue that has currently been exposed quite widely, thanks to social media platforms, and so the potential for exploring raw feelings, realist melancholia and hard-hitting humour was endless, yet remained untouched...ironically. Overall, it is a well intended drag, which can be deemed as entertainment on a various levels, to a universal audience.