Anita and Me – Cheltenham Everyman REVIEW

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-10-32-45I can only imagine the nervousness within the cast of local sixth formers as they are about to perform for the first time in their local theatre. Pupils from Millbrook Academy, GYTC Company and the local Everyman community cast have been brought together by the Touring Consortium Theatre Company.

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Based on the book by Meera Syal which was the adapted into a film by 2002 and used across GCSE classrooms, the story allows an alternative vision into life as a Punjabi family.

You grow with Meena and her family as they move to Tollington and face all the struggles of day to day life as an Indian family in the 1970s. She meets Anita, town rascal and cool kid on the block, they soon bond over their love of fish fingers, top of the pops, Jackie magazine, and of course, David Cassidy. Now Meena is thrust between her new best friend who introduces exciting new western cultures and her loving family who are keen for her to stay true to her morals. Feisty and strong willed, Meena has to face her baaesc_0788ttle between teenage pressures and family roots.

The play delicately addresses the issue of racial segregation within the community in a way that is often handled much more forwardly. It is woven throughout but does not steal the limelight from the tale of Meena and her world, the tones and themes are perfectly balanced by the director Roxana Silbert.

The six stop national tour features an incredible spinning set which despite mostly showing the never ending lanes outside the Kumar house, can easily adapt itself with minimal changes to become a believable sweet shop, dining room and riverside.

Along with the scenery, it is the costumes, syntax and music that clearly portray exactly what era you’ve been transported to when you take your seat. But these all come second to the endless references thoughtfully shoehorned in to the piece, from Cathy and Claire agony aunts to Jason King investigator extraordinaire.

Original compositions from the Ringham brotheraesc_8325s which spontaneously appeared, seemed a little out of the blue but welcomed nonetheless, allowing for the community to come together in a fusion of Indian-Pop. It was described as a play with music, rather than a musical.
Strong performances from the young leads Aasiya Shah and Laura Aramayo as naive yet high-spirited Meena and bad-girl-next-door Anita. But all performed well, so well in fact that my plus one didn’t even realise half of the cast weren’t professionals!

From the adorable jam tart making lady next door and village fairs to gang violence and domestic abuse, the performance drags you in all different directions making for a rollercoaster of emotions that leaves you smiling.

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