“I am what I am” is the central theme of Harvey Virdi’s new play with integral music an dance for Rifco which premiered at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 9 May at the start of a national tour. The theme could be reckoned a controversial one regardless of the ethnic and cultural background of the characters, for its inspiration derives from the British Asian drag queen and LGBTQ communities.
Families – of many sorts – are at the heart of the story. The main character is Abdul, working name Meena (Raj Ghatak), who walked out on his Pakistani father and mother when they refused to accept either his homosexuality or his adoption of a female persona. Now he runs a club in the Midlands with self-interested help from Munni (Jamie Zubairi) and still mourns the loss to AIDs of his life partner. Into the club wander embryonic drag-act Pinky (Vedi Roy) and Preetho (Harvey Dhadda).
Then student Shaan (Nicholas Prasad) turns up. He also has left home and is something of a lost soul; he needs a father-mother figure, a career an an identity. Meena is prepared to help, remembering a bitter past, and Pinky and Preetho are willing to assist. Munni, with a tame councillor in tow (Ali Ariale doubles Kabir and Ranjeet – Meena’s conformist brother) sees possibilities. Financial as well as sexual politics come into play.
Offstage, Meena and Ranjeet’s father is dying. But Meena backs out of making the phone call which might set the father’s mind at rest until it’s too late. Unusually for plays which come into the “special pleading” category, this one has fully rounded characters, so that we can emphasise with the dilemmas which they face. Pravesh Kumar’s direction keeps the action on the move, aided by Libby Watson’s set which switches effortlessly from the tawdriness of a run-down club to the glitter and glamour of a successful one.
Composer Niraj Chag and movement diector Andy Kumar, who also designed the Indian dance costumes, keep our eyes and ears engaged with the ambiance created; Mark Dymark’s lighting, one might say, is spot-on. The first night audience embraced the concept whole-heartedly; I hope this is an omen for the rest of the tour. The main thing is that you need neither to be British Asian nor a drag-act aficionado to enjoy this show.
Four and a half-star rating.
Miss Meena & the Masala Queens runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 13 May before touring nationally until 17 June. There are matinée performances on 11 and 13 May.