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Sep 11

THEATRE REVIEW: ISHQ The Musical at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

 

Review by Paul Vates

 

“London’s first ever Anglo Punjabi Sufi musical”

 

 

On the poster, it states ‘London’s first ever Anglo Punjabi Sufi musical’. Who am I to argue? There may never be another one – which would be an awful shame. Sadler’s Wells Theatre was packed and the buzz was thrilling to enjoy. People waving at each other, selfies being taken, with giggling and chatting amongst the handshakes.

 

This was going to be a spectacle.

 

Once it began, it became apparent that Serendip Productions don’t hold back. Under the direction of Huma & Farooq Beg, the Punjab is recreated in all of its glorious colour and life. Sumptuous staging, with a mixture of live and recorded music, a cast of thirty or so dancers and actors, everything required to make a spellbinding evening.

 

Like watching a live Bollywood film at times, I found myself grinning at some genuine theatrical magic – the creation of a boat and crop fields using just cloth, the landscapes being painted onto the backdrop to set each scene and, during some pauses, the uncredited but magnificent dhol player drumming with a winning smile and even venturing into audience participation.

 

The story is, basically, a Romeo and Juliet scenario, a traditional tale having been performed for over 600 years in many artforms. Lovers from two different clans meet but are not allowed to love. In this instance, Romeo is Ranjha, played by the over-gesturing Ashan Khan. Juliet’s role in this story is Heer, played by Rasheeda Ali – a more confident performer in this multi-discipinary artform. Her voice is better-suited to the Disneyesque songs, his physique to the Punjabi dancing and clever wrestling contest choreography.

 

The wheels start to wobble, though, as we meet the rest of the characters. For some performers, it is their first professional appearance. Some are cast out of their age-bracket, so have false moustaches and beards – giving the air of a school play. In some bizarre way, this frivolity adds to the occasion, but as it contradicts the serious efforts of others in the show, it does get tiresome. Adnan Jaffar, who plays the angry uncle Kaido is so villainous that his scenes thrust the whole affair into the realms of a pantomime.

 

ISHQ means love, or passion, and, that comes across in every way: the story, the performers’ endeavours, the production as a whole. It is a lavish, expensive, experiment that only fails because it is under-rehearsed, but its heart is golden and pure. Produced to mark Pakistan’s 70th year of independence, it will performed just four times and is a massive collaboration of UK and Pakistani talent, with specially commissioned music and choreography and, for this show, an added emphasis on empowering women.

 

Let’s see more grand-scale events like this!

 

 

Running time: 2 hours (plus an interval)

Sept 7 – 9th.

 

Production Photographs:  Lidia Crisafulli.

 

Twitter: @ishqthemusical

Facebook: /ishqthemusical

 

Playwright: Mashfiq Murshed

Lyricists: Farooq Beg, Owen Smith and Ian Brandon

Composer (UK): Ian Brandon

Composer (Pakistan): Emu (Fuzon)

Choreographer and Dramaturg: Owen Smith

Choreographer (Pakistan): Suhaee Abro

Set Design, Projections and Lighting: Declan Randall