As the eyes of the world turn to London in advance of the Olympics, the World Stages festival seeks to celebrate the capital city’s diversity, with mixed results so far. Its latest offering, The Wah Wah Girls, seeks to celebrate the diversity of the capital city with this vibrant musical set in the East End. Though the book and casting are both uneven, there’s no denying the cast’s exuberance and stellar choreography salvage the production.
Bindi (a hilarious Rina Fatania), a middle-aged housewife sits down to watch a Bollywood-style film and soon becomes a part of the story, weaving in and out of the action with her plush leather armchair on wheels. Soraya (Sophiya Haque) has emigrated to London from India and set up a dancing club, specialising in traditional Mujra techniques as performed by her squad of young, glamorous girls. After fleeing from her controlling brother in Leeds, talented Sita (Natasha Jayetileke) joins the troupe, attracting the eye of Soraya’s management-minded son Kabir (Tariq Jordan). She soon invokes Soraya’s ire by encouraging the girls to pursue more Westernised dancing styles, setting off an overly complicated chain of events that culminate in dramatic reveals and inexplicable plot developments.
Tanika Gupta’s simplistic book and lyrics let down the production severely, being so riddled with clichés they have the audience laughing for all the wrong reasons. Though Fatania, Haque, and Jayetileke are all standouts, the rest of the cast struggles with the “triple-threat” demands of a musical. As Polish builder Pavel, Philip Brodie is unable to demonstrate one let alone all three of the skills required, and his accent frequently fluctuates between Warsaw and Washington. With underdeveloped sets and just 14 actors to create a series of large-scale dance numbers, Emma Rice’s production does seem like Bollywood on a budget.
Choreographers Gauri Sharma Tripathi and Javed Sanadi are the real stars of the show, with their work perfectly demonstrating the competing dance styles and creating spectacular numbers with few dancers at their disposal. The rousing dances coupled with the personality and talent of the three female leads make it impossible not to get carried away by the show’s charm. It’s clear to see that despite its technical limitations, this production has plenty of heart to make up for it.
Where I sat: Dress Circle B28-29. The Peacock Theatre is quite small, and there were no visibility problems, but these seats had the most limited legroom I’ve experienced in the West End and made for an uncomfortable experience. The stalls have considerably more legroom than the Circle.
Recommended: An enjoyable but rough-around-the-edges evening, this is a must for Bollywood fans.