With Kathak inspired dance, dazzling colours, glittering sequins, high melodrama, lust and romance amid the backdrop of grey hooded hooligans, pigeons and double decker busses, Wah Wah Girls brings Bollywood down to earth on the streets of East London.
After running away from her controlling family to London, seventeen-year-old Sita (Natasha Jayetileke) is offered a bed in exchange for performing in a Murji dancing club by Soraya (Sophia Haque), the sassy venue owner. Soraya strives to maintain a traditional Murji dancing environment but the resistant young dancing girls, led by Sita, add a British twist to the dancing and in doing so provoke her. Romance develops between the Sita and Soraya’s son Kabir (Tariq Jordan) and, after conflicts rise between the two women, the lovers elope. Sita’s violent brother eventually turns up and everything comes to a head under catastrophic circumstances. All of this is delivered through a shallow framing device where a lone woman is watching a Bollywood film on a widescreen TV in her living room.
Unfortunately the plot is lacking in any punch, it skims over some potent social and cultural topics, turning them into wishy-washy sentiments before punctuating them with ensemble choreography and pyrotechnics. Its characters are also stereotypical and two-dimensional representations of the multicultural community of Britain, including a cantankerous old shop keeper, hooded hooligans, a controlling and crazed bearded man and, last but not least, a Polish handy man with an American accent. Nevertheless, the script is also quite humorous at points, aiding these trivialisations by intensifying the frivolousness of the show as a whole.
Fortunately the cast carry the insipid plot well and there are some great performances from Rina Fatania as the TV obsessed nosy neighbour, Bindi, and Tony Jayawardena as Mansoor.
The musical score by Niraj Chag is an interesting fusion of Asian, Afro Caribbean and eastern European instruments and rhythms. Bollywood movie classics are also amongst this mix, lip-synced by a winged pigeon lady whose continuous presence is somehow representational of either life or death, certainly a confusing and potentially unnecessary character.
Printed backdrops of East London terraced housing get dragged on and off by the cast like an unruly pet, often to simply disguise scene changes upstage. A pleasing three-dimensional bus appears twice, providing a welcome aspect to the scenery but unfortunately continuing the unimaginative printed theme. A lovely flock of pigeons, operated by a gang of hoodies, amusingly pepper the set throughout many of the scenes and a fox puppet steals one scene as it sniffs its way through the backstreets at night.
The productions winning ingredient is by far the joyous Bollywood dancing sections and in particular the ones that are fused with street styles. Good choreography combined with the beautiful colourful Indian costumes creates some fun filled and beautiful moments.
‘Wah Wah’, a Hindi expression meaning well done or bravo! is a term I would say misses the mark when referring to this production. It is certainly playful and light hearted as one would expect a Bollywood film to be, but it is lacking in depth and feels somewhat scrappy and cobbled together, which one would not anticipate from a World Stages London production. If one-dimensional entertainment with sparkling colours and silly humour is your thing then you will more than likely be amused, should you be expecting a multi-faceted fusion of cultures from some of London’s leading producing houses then I suspect you will leave the theatre feeling somewhat disappointed.