As a teen, we’re at odds with the world. We’re no longer a child, and therefore refuse to be conned by the fairytales and feigned truths that once gripped our imaginations. We begin to fight the opinions of our nearest and dearest, whilst coming to grips with both physiological and emotional changes, let alone educational expectation. Add the universal feeling of struggling with identity and contending with societal expectation and there you have a recipe for complete and utter emotional mayhem. This is a rite of passage that Meera Syal‘s 1997 novel, Anita and Me manages to warmly encapsulate.
Penned almost 20 years ago, Anita and Me stands the test of time, and this is largely in part to the protagonist’s resilience. Played meticulously by Mandeep Dhillon, Meena’s rebellious yet considerate energy resonates throughout the evening. An emotional tug of war presents itself; the audience, spectators to Meena’s ‘one of a kind’ quirkiness, contrasts humorously with her constant need to seek validation from the local troublemaker, Anita. Jalleh Aizadeh cruises the stage with a confidence that suggests that trouble could kick off at any given moment. Anita and Meena’s interactions are the gateway to the theme of cultural and societal expectation, and although their scenes emit a fiery energy, I’m left wanting these scenes to really breathe. I want to root for their friendship, however something is missing. They both possess an equal power emotionally, however the power should see saw amongst one another.
Set in 70s Tollington, director Roxana Silbert beautifully snapshots the community driven ethos of the era. Bob Bailey‘s Victorian terraced set design automatically time travels the audience back to a pre-games console/computerised era where the younger generation spent hours on end playing outside without a care in the world. The clash between older and younger generations are resonant also, with the referencing of educational prospects serving as a permanent reminder that the younger generation are forever closer to determining their adult existence. Tanika Gupta‘s adaptation of the novel pinpoints the crucial themes that makes the award winning novel a popular choice with readers, from the clash of cultures in the case of Meena and having to uphold the traditions of her Punjabi background yet uphold British values to isolation, love, economical downfall and immigration; these are contemporary themes that will always pose themselves as prevalent, no matter the era.
The ensemble bring to life a spectrum of vibrant characters that help to shape Meena’s life, from Janice Connelly‘s considered and caring Mrs Worrall, to Ayesha Dharkher‘s overly concerned Daljit, and Ameet Chana‘s relaxed Shyam, AKA Meena’s parents. Meena and Daljit’s mother daughter relationship is again a pivotal piece of the performance puzzle, however their tension only ever simmers, leaving room for the potential for true heartbreak to truly occur. Kiren Jogi and Chris Nayak bring a sense of escapism with their charisma and enthusiam, their reactions to Meena’s deviation from expectation a treat.
The evening is tied together by a series of Ben and Max Ringham‘s original defiant soundtrack; a mixture of bolshy teenage angst driven ‘Dear Sue’ epistles and Tarek Merchant‘s hippyish Ned subtly adorns the evening with a John Lennon-esque serenity that locks in the all welcoming energy encouraged by the performance. 3.5/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
Anita and Me is currently showing at the Stratford East Theatre Royal until Saturday 21st November. For more information on the production, visit here…
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