Beyond Bollywood, the new show filling Lloyd Webber’s expansive Palladium, promises to be a spectacle that it’s audience has never seen before. But whilst it’s energetic dancing hits all the right notes, it is the script and direction that let this production be dwarfed by its theatrical home.
The withered story follows young dancer Shaily who, keen to save her dead mother’s theatre in Munich from her drunken father, travels to India to find inspiration in the folk dance so close to her mother’s heart and expose it for the profit of the theatre. Whilst travelling, Shaily meets Raghav, a choreographer trying to fuse eastern and western styles of dance; accompanied by their humorous sidekick, Ballu, we are shown Gujarat, Bhangra and Kathak dance.
The script fulfils the main intentions to keep the show moving along, but I can’t help but think that I’d rather the show was without it. The dead mother enters as a mirage many times, shrouded in dry ice that makes the show feel rather more pantomime than West End musical. Several declarations of “follow your dreams and turn them into reality” become laborious, and the opening sequence that introduces the talented musicians proves somewhat pointless later on, as live music is forgone for pre-recorded tracks that are rather glib in the actors lip syncing.
It is not until Act Two that we are allowed to forget the script, albeit rather briefly, while we encounter the saving grace section of the show: the dancing. Loud, colourful ensemble dance numbers are what this show excels in. Led by Ana Ilmi and Mohit Mathur as Shaily and Raghav respectively, the company shines in a lavish spectacle and celebration of the power of Indian dancing, which allows people to feel excited by it.
When we return to the script however, there is the rather odd plot line that sees Raghav and sidekick Ballu (Sudeep Modak) entice a theatre owner with a chorus of men in leather performing ‘It’s Raining Men’. And that just about sums up the problem with the show: director, writer and choreographer Rajeev Goswami tries too much to mix the Indian and Western worlds, and leaves us longing for more of the vibrancy and joy that comes with the Indian dancing.
Salim and Sulaiman Merchant’s music is energetically played throughout the evening, both live and pre-recorded. Yet I think more of the former would enhance the energy of the company, and not leave them looking quite so lost on the Palladium’s massive stage that only has video projections as backdrops.
Whilst the show is a glorious celebration of the Indian culture, and particularly its dance, it is the script that lets it down. With some editing though, this show could well become the spectacle it claims to be, and prove to be a real kaleidoscopic expression of passion and dance.
Beyond Bollywood is playing at the London Palladium until 27 June. For more information and tickets, see the Beyond Bollywood website.