Russia, Brazil, China… India. Four monstrously large nations that have been touted as emerging powerhouses for about two decades. India is growing and growing, but not as fast as its neighbour to the North. There is wild growth in some places, and old abject poverty in others. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is based on the book by Katherine Boo, who spent three years in the Mumbai slums her book is set in.
The world created is a captivating one. People live, fight, love and die in the shadow of a 21st century airport, struggling to navigate its many dangers. These range from jealous neighours, to brutal police officers, to brutal security guards, to… you get the picture. However by no means is this an Indian Les Miserebles, all about the horrors of poverty. On the contrary it is almost a celebration, not of struggle but the dignity with which the characters try to engage in the struggle. Trying to be honest in a corrupt world.
At the heart of the story is Zehrunsia and her son Abdul. They run a formidable litter picking business, with Abdul‘s gift for sorting litter for sale a key component of its success. Meera Syal as Zehrunsia is the play‘s stand out actress, although by no means a show stealing one. The play is vast, the production’s quality is to be expected from the Olivier Theatre and every actor does their job. The complaint is that at no point does it become more than the sum of its parts. The first half in particular is guilty of dragging on. It‘s not that at any one thing is wrong, it‘s just that the scale of the vision swallows up the connection with the audience. The second half does far better by narrowing the focus on the key issues and characters.
In the end it all comes together and all is as it was, but not quite. It is appropriate that a play as centered in reality as this one ends with a feeling that it all might happen again somehow. These are perfectly average people, and there is a feeling that the next chapter of their lives will be just as interesting and difficult. Sadly the play doesn‘t reach the potential their stories have but that doesn‘t detract from what it is: A perfectly decent evening at the theatre. 3.5/5
Review written by Ingimar Sverrisson.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is currently showing at the Olivier (National Theatre) until Monday 13th April. For more information on the production, visit here…
For tickets to Behind the Beautiful Forevers, visit here…