Having seen this vibrant, colourful new British musical at it’s opening at Watford Palace Theatre it was great to see it again 7 weeks later at Hornchurch looking and sounding so wonderful. The score from Summet Chopra is simply tremendous – such an exciting, soaring, brilliant fusion of Eastern and Western musical styles and instruments. How I wish there was a cast recording available ~ the few snippets out there on sound cloud do not do this fantastic score or cast, justice. There were many people in the bar last night asking about a cast recording and I sincerely hope it happens in the future. I also hope the musical does another tour in the future.
Pravesh Kumar introduces his new musical LAILA in the program writing… “I first heard the story of Leila Majnu from my grandmother when I was nine. I had noticed her call one of my uncles a ‘Majnu’ (meaning possessed or madman) and questioned her about it. In South Asian and Middle Eastern culture pining young lovers are often called Laila or Majnu. I knew the story of these star-crossed lovers long before I had ever read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which is remarkably similar in places. It made me wonder why the greatest love story in the east is still relatively unknown in the west… I spoke to many young people in the British Asian community who are stuck between two cultures, trying not to disappoint their families and often honouring their parents over the own heart. It reminded me of this story. I had to look deeper at the conflict of the two families – what honour really means to them. It is unfortunate that centuries later, the story of Lela Manju is still very relevant. I wanted to give all those silent Lela is a voice to shout out loud and sing.”
And so he does in this sumptuous production. This adaptation of the eternal ‘Romeo & Juliet’ story of forbidden thwarted love between 2 young people is instantly recognisable, though told much more from the female perspective rather the male. In this 400 th year of the celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy, it stamps it’s British identity firmly in place alongside the fact that the story we all know so well originated in the East many centuries before the great Bard. Lord Byron described the story as the “Romeo and Juliet of the east” and here Kumar places the drama in Britain. I thoroughly enjoyed this new musical Laila first time round, and just as much several weeks on.
From its dramatic opening set in a 21st century bookshop with expressive and beautifully danced choreography by Cressida Carré, we are transported to the differently told but instantly recognisable 7th century Persian story of doomed lovers from waring families.
With so much attention to detail, effective staging, sumptuous costumes, billowing silks and some very beautiful lighting, Pravesh Kumar’s excellent and characterful ensemble cast fully commit themselves to this story with strong, witty and characterful performances, some playing several roles. Mona Goodwin particularly shines as Laila, proving herself a charismatic and warm singer & actress. Reece Bahia as Qays, her young idealistic but ultimately doomed lover, her ‘Majnun’, has particularly settled into his role with some truly moving, exceptional singing. Vedi Roy as Kazi and several other roles(!) is a hugely charismatic character but quite honestly there is not a weak link in the entire company – the entire cast deserve individual mention and praise – Bravo all!
A vibrant, expressive score from Sumeet Chopra is a truly brilliant, evocative East/West fusion with traditional Sufi musicians playing alongside modern rock instrumentalists with catchy, poignant and powerful songs that sweep us along, as well as some beautiful, delicate melodies and moments. Surrinda Singh Parwana (who plays the Father and the Princess) was the star of this companies previous musical two years ago, ‘Britain’s Got Bhangra’, is a singing ‘star’ in his own right, is also an incredibly strong and charismatic singer. I would buy this cast CD in an instant – The songs Laila and Her Majnu, Follow The Wind and It is You are the stand-out songs, but all the songs, instrumentation and arrangements of the entire score are impressive.
The production also uses effective shadow puppetry to set the (ancient) scene which is instantly recognisable as similar to that used in Tori Amos’s wonderful The Light Princess at the National Theatre two years ago and sure enough this was designed by the same Puppet Designer Matthew Robins.
Having not seen anything previously from rifco arts, I am very excited to see what they will produce in the future. They have something very important and impressive to offer to British Theatre and in 2016 the question needs to be asked as to why ‘Asian’ theatre is constantly being pushed into an ‘ethnic’ place rather than simply being part of mainstream British theatre since that is what they are. Bend it Like Beckham is British, Howard Goodall is British and Laila is set in Bradford, yet all are still being very much pushed into an ‘ethnic’ musical pigeonhole which is a crying shame.
After its opening at Watford, Laila has toured to The New Wolsey Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Warwick Arts Centre to arrive at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch for this week. There are still opportunities to see it at Theatre Royal Windsor and The Lowry, Salford, and judging from the enthusiastic audience reception it is receiving, will be deservedly much enjoyed and appreciated. Laila is a vibrant, exciting, lush, and incredibly well produced and very much welcome addition to British musicals from Pravesh Kumar, Sumeet Chopra, Dougal Irvine and rifco arts. More please!
Review by Catherine Françoise
Laila The Musical runs at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until Saturday 21 st May April
Tickets £17- £25
Box office: 017080443333
Then Touring to :
24 – 28 May
Theatre Royal Windsor
31 May – 4 June
The Lowry, Manchester