Reviewed by Nigel Chester
Dishoom is a brilliantly bizarre production by the Rifco Theatre Company, written by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. This is a coming of age story set in the late 1970s England. Primarily, it is Simon’s story (Bilal Khan). Our five young protagonists are:
Simon, a disabled wheelchair user, fighting the prejudice in his own family, as well as in wider society. His Grandmother and main female carer, Bibi, sees Simon as a disappointment and is openly hostile towards him. His weak father does his best to defend his son, but without much effect, being more content to escape to the pub.
Baljit (Gurkiran Kaur), Simon’s distant cousin, comes to spend the summer with our dysfunctional family. She is a gifted student, wanting to go to university, also battling prejudice within her own family, an arranged marriage looks set to be her path.
Mark (Elijah Baker), a boy with an absent black father and a white mother. His struggle is to find a place within his own family as well as society. His colour was explained away as his mother had drunk too much tea whilst pregnant.
Next comes Donna (Georgia Burnell), working and saving hard to escape a life of poverty and her alcoholic mother who sleeps around, hoping to find love. Donna understands her mother’s hopeless plight but wants to find her freedom.
Finally, Keith (James Mace) sees his way forward as reclaiming his country by joining the National Front. Keith wants to work, but unemployment is high and he feels marginalised, the fact that two of his best friends are of ethnic origin seems a fact that he is willing to overlook at first.
This however, is not a simple linear story, we are treated to our youngsters imagining how they can take control and grow up by seeing themselves as characters in epic Hindi film, Sholay, contemporary to the time in which Dishoom is set.
Dishoom is a word used in much the same way as an American comic would use Kerpow.
The melding of these two worlds was seamless and highlighted the protagonist’s struggles.
The staging and production was amazing and the creative team should be justly proud. The set design by Neil Irish and the directorship of Pravesh Kumar are award worthy.
I did struggle to fully engage at times as I’m not of Asian descent and had not seen Sholay. Many times, a lot of the audience laughed at jokes where I was at a loss to know what had been said or why it was funny.
Some of the themes were difficult, although I’m sure this was deliberate, the slimy politician (Omar Ibrahim) grooming Donna. The shame of Simon’s family, because of his disability; The casual prejudice that all our young people encountered, none more heart-breaking than Donna being let down by the education system. These are massive, powerful and uncomfortable ideas and I believe are still issues we face today.
Would I recommend it? – Absolutely: Would I want to go again, knowing what I know now? – No, I still feel the gloom.
Tickets cost from £10 (booking fees may apply).
Dishoom! is at Derby Theatre from 23-27 October 2018, for more information or book tickets visit www.derbytheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01332 593939.
Derby Theatre, 15 Theatre Walk, St Peter’s Quarter, Derby, DE1 2NF | 01332 593939