Stage Review of Anita and Me at Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The Rep)

Mandeep Dhillion as Meena and Jalleh Alizadeh as Anita in Anita and Me
Mandeep Dhillion as Meena and Jalleh Alizadeh as Anita in Anita and Me

The play is a lesson in life for Meena. I totally get that. I can see why Syal’s book, Anita and Me and the study guides are probably a good resource for teaching GCSE subjects, English Language, recent History and Citizenship particularly.

We have the spirited Meena, who, in the beginning anyway, is confused and impressionable, her mischievous behaviour is because she is intent on securing a friendship with young, Anita and she thinks she needs to be naughty to manage it. Meena is liked by everyone in fact; girl, boy, young, old, and no matter what their ethnic background is.

Mandeep Dhillion (Meena) and Janice Connolly (Mrs Worrall) in Anita and Me
Mandeep Dhillion (Meena) and Janice Connolly (Mrs Worrall) in Anita and Me

Meena tests peoples’ patience and rebels against the traditions upheld within her household from her nuclear family and her extended family members, to the point of upsetting them. She becomes Anita’s best buddy for a time, but when a few nasty ‘getting in with the wrong crowd’ incidents and unsettling events happen, within her locality, and suddenly we see Meena having a life evaluating change of heart, and almost overnight.

The set build with a row of red bricked terraces alongside the canal, sharing street space with industrial buildings and factories is extremely authentic, as are the references made to factory closures and the road building upheavals. While some lovely observational pinpointing happens, there are small inaccuracies in finer details, I felt.

The characterisations are a delight, but, unfortunately, there is no complexity of character revealed. It was evident the whole time that this is based on a work of fiction from a one person perspective as it is far too complex a subject to box up one way and to take it as read.

The contentious topic of race relations is somewhat bravely addressed in what is an entertaining show with some noteworthy performances from an excellent cast, but it is a shame that the comedy, the uplifting songs, and the observational extras have all but fizzled out in Act II.

I put this down to another play of two halves, I enjoyed the first twenty minutes of so immensely, but my mind became somewhat clouded with my ongoing preoccupation to question it. Nevertheless, this is a healthy reaction and shows that dramatic devices are working, so my straying thoughts of ‘I’ve seen it all before’, should not, necessarily, be viewed as a negative.

Review by Theatre Critic, Debra Hall who attended Press Night at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham UK in an official capacity on Tuesday 13 October. A repeat of this publication can be found at Remotegoat

Photography by Ellie Kurttz

 

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