October 2 2014
Popular comedy film has musical makeover, but writer David Baddiel and actors Kev Orkian and Mina Awar feel it’s a bit more than just a good old-fashioned East End knees-up…
FOR MOST, “The Infidel” film was a riotous comedy about identity and cultural confusion – a tale of Islam and Judaism finding uncommon cause in one London ‘Asian’ man – due to his unusual circumstances.
While the new musical adapted by David Baddiel, who wrote the original hit film, is still billed as a comedy, there is another dimension to it, believe its writer and two of its leads.
“The Infidel” musical premieres at the Theatre Royal Stratford East London, this Saturday (October 4), with music by Erran Baron-Cohen, and stars Kev Orkian and Mina Anwar.
So, it is case of laughter and tears?
It would seem so – while the accent is still very much on entertainment and amusement, don’t expect to go and not be just a little stirred underneath and provoked to think.
Baddiel told www.asianculturevulture.com: “Like a lot of musicals – ‘Fiddler on The Roof’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ – it’s about a man at a crisis point in his life, when all the old certainties fall away, and it’s about how he puts it all back together.
“In our story that’s mainly comic but there are some, I think, moving moments as well, which also comes through well through song.”
Baddiel has taken some liberties with the original – in which ‘Mahmoud Nassir’, a Muslim man of Pakistani descent, living in a suburb of London, who’s proud of his identity and tight family, discovers he was adopted and was actually born to Jewish parents (and therefore Jewish).
Jokingly, Baddiel explained what led him back to ‘Mahmoud’s’ story.
“Despite being released in 43 countries, ‘The Infidel‘ movie, with its message of tolerance through comedy, seems not completely to have fixed Muslim-Jewish relations. Luckily ‘The Infidel – The Musical’, with its terrific cast, is set to have another go: this time in song.”
He has made the musical more vivid and boisterous than the film.
“It’s bigger, more colourful entertainment than the movie – as a musical must be: an all singing, all-dancing extravaganza,” he said. “I’ve also changed the story somewhat, plus I’ve put in load of new jokes and cut some bad ones out,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com
The blend of music and comedy certainly works well for Anwar who plays Mahmoud’s wife, ‘Saamiyah’.
“Music and comedy are levellers and bonders of people,” Anwar told www.asianculturevulture.com.
A classically trained singer and dancer in her early career, she’s well known to many for her role in “The Thin Blue Line”, the amiable police comedy, which starred Rowan Atkinson and she has since featured in a string of hit TV shows, and is about to appear alongside Michael Palin in major drama “Remember Me.”
She had a role in the film but whether you noticed Mina as Muna, the burqa-clad celebrity-obsessed friend of the couple, is debateable.
While the comedy of this musical seems obvious and a natural selling point, Anwar likes to stress that its message is simple and perhaps a real balm in these troubled, prickly times.
“It is hysterically funny, but there are also some very moving parts.
“It’s really about how we should look more at our similarities than our differences.
“Historically, Muslims and Jews have lived together for centuries but that is not portrayed in the media and they are looking more at what separates people.
“Most religions have a very similar core, the truth is the same and we have lost sight of that and the common thread of these two Abrahamic religions particularly.”
But first and probably foremost, the music, she feels, lifts the production to a different level.
“It is sublime and wonderful – there are a lot of shoe tappers and songs that will stick in your head and melodies that are unforgettable.”
For her too, it is celebration and an affirmation of the area and its inhabitants too.
“People should come and embrace the community we live in, the oneness of people.
“This subverts stereotypes and makes us look at our own bigotry and lack of tolerance. It is a very much a celebration of faiths, it’s not having a go at different religions; it’s about human beings in their own space and about ordinary people.”
Orkian is an award-winning comedian who has just returned home from the US after touring his well-received one-man comedy show there. In 2010, he got to the semi-finals of “Britain’s Got Talent” with his take on Elton John’s “I am still standing”.
He seems to have the perfect personality to play Mahmoud.
A veteran of stage musicals, appearing in “Fame”, “Me and My Girl” and “Boogie Nights”, he’s relishing a return to musical theatre in a role that combines two elements close to his heart: music and comedy.
He told www.asianculturevulture.com: “There are jokes in there that are very current, and the whole show is based on current ideas.
“The music and the lyrics are very intelligent, they make you think – they are not just written because it rhymes.”
The comparisons with the film’s ‘Mahmoud’ – Omid Djalili, are inevitable, but Orkian is confident that he more than holds the measure of the character in the musical.
“It’s got a completely new look to it, Omid (who Orkian knows from the stand-up comedy circuit) did that for film, I am doing something (different) and I am doing it on the stage.”
Of Armenian origin, and brought up in Edmonton, north London, the multicultural universe ‘Mahmoud’ inhabits is one familiar to Orkian.
“It was absolutely my experience. Many of my friends have different backgrounds, Mauritian, Indian, Jamaican, Chinese, there were many different cultures in the same community and both my parents are Armenian and we were one of only two families in Edmonton that were Armenian.
“No one knew about Armenia. It was like, sorry, where?” (Armenia is a landlocked state virtually at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, sharing borders with Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan. It has some of the oldest Christian churches, dating back to the 4th Century and was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and was colonised by several different powers before that).
Now in his 40s, Orkian said, London’s come a long way and when we talked to him he was still settling his beard in.
“I’ve never grown a beard in my life,” he revealed.”It’s always been a conscious decision not to – I’ve never enjoyed having facial hair.
“It’s a really exciting transition. I think I look like my dad and I look very much like him – but this makes me look older than him,” he joked.
While there’s a likely to be a lot of fun on stage, Orkian like Anwar, appreciates the bigger message and says the production doesn’t forget that.
“When you look at the entire project it is about one man’s journey with two major religions that he is having a dilemma trying to understand.
“What this guy does in general is take the audience on a journey through what people perceive as a multi-cultural society and it shows how identical we all really are…”
All pictures: Robert Day
- ‘The Infidel-The Musical‘ from Saturday, October 4 – Sunday,November 2. Performances Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm. Matinees from 18 October on Wednesdays at 2pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm (there are no matinee performances first two weeks of the run 3 – 17 October)
Tickets start from £7 to £24, with concessions available for all performances. Group discount available: 10 for 9 (full price seats only). To book tickets call the Box Office on 020 8534 0310, visit www.stratfordeast.com or book in person at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 1BN.