Produced by dance house Sadler’s Wells, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Cornwall-based Theatre company Kneehigh and directed by Emma Rice, ‘Wah! Wah! Girls’ provide a fresh narrative on the British Asian cultural experience.
Over the years we have seen many different takes of the “east meets west” storyline in theatre, musical and in movies. ‘Wah! Wah! Girls’ is one of the productions which genuinely stand out for its original script, convincing milieu, great casting and lovely musical fusion.
The story unfolds in several layers and revolves around the life of Soraya- the mujra dancer. Shackled by the tyrannies of a patriarchal society, Soraya decides to flee. In the story she ends up in the east end- easily recognised as contemporary Stratford, lovingly created by Keith Khan, the set and costume designer.
Tanika Gupta, the playwright and lyricist has expertly woven a script which moves seamlessly between the present and past life of Soraya. Building up around this are several smaller plots- of a torrid love affair, of the relationship shared by a young group of girls and their love for dance, of the revelation of a long lost relationship, of the yearning of a teenage girl for freedom from family tyrannies to live life on her own terms.
The production has all the ingredients of a “spicy Saturday takeaway east end curry”. Foremost among them is a very well written and moving story. There is an effortless intermingling of classical Kathak and Bollywood dance juxtaposing timeless India against its contemporary values. There is heart wrenching melodrama- almost a throwback to the cosy family potboilers of the Mumbai film industry. All of these is topped up with sequinned costumes and originally scored music used alongside some very popular Bollywood tracks. The music and the dance combine to evoke a lost world of ‘Mujras’- dance by courtesans in India, as it used to be.
Niraj Chag’s music draws both from classical notes and from contemporary Bollywood music. This review can hardly do without a special mention of the choreographers. Gauri Shankar Tripathi’s riveting recreation of the lost world of the mujras through the Kathak movements that she has choreographed to some well loved Bollywood songs, deserves a standing ovation. Bollywood choreographer Javed Sanadi made the audience tap their feet to each Bollywood number.
Lastly but not the least, of the ingredients that stand out to me is the excellent casting. The handpicked cast, made the audience believe in the characters- be it the period dramas or the contemporary social milieu in stratford
The cumulative result of all of these is ‘Wah! Wah! Girls’ – a musical theatre based on an Indian storyline of traditions and relationships, told in a modern style using British sensibilities. The presentation exuded incredible emotion, maintaining its pace, poise and elegance. ‘
Wah! Wah! Girls’ has indeed made it’s audience say Wah! Wah! (pronounced as Vah! Vah!, meaning wow or well done by an audience to show their appreciation).