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‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ – hugely enjoyable and engaging…

‘The Buddha of Suburbia’  – hugely enjoyable and engaging…

Author Hanif Kureishi’s seminal novel about race, sex and identity  becomes an entertaining and irreverent stage show… 
By Suman Bhuchar 
THIS stage dramatisation, adapted by theatre director Emma Rice and writer Hanif Kureishi, is currently on at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Swan Theatre in Stratford Upon-Avon until June 1.

There is a microphone on stage and a skinny Karim (Dee Ahluwalia), the central protagonist, is in a pink cheesecloth full sleeve shirt and bell bottom jeans.  He arrives as though he is doing an open mic gig and announces himself  with the lines which are now iconic: “My name is Karim and I am an Englishman born and bred. Almost”.  We meet him on May 3,1979 when the  song ‘Bright Eyes‘ (the song by Art Garfunkel) has knocked ‘I Will  Survive‘ by Gloria Gaynor off the charts.

Karim gives us a bit of context to the period and an introduction into his story about growing up experiencing sex, love and treachery.  The story then flashes back to three years earlier, as Karim takes us  through his life and the formative incidents that shaped him as a 17 year  old – finding his place in the world, becoming self-confident,  expressing and experimenting with his sexuality, drugs and getting hurt. 

Dad-Haroon (Ankur Bahl), Mother (Bettrys Jones) and Karim
(Dee Ahluwalia)
Dad (Bahl) and son (Ahluwalia)
Karim household – new family and friends

It’s an engaging and irreverent show, but some of it is narrated, then  acted, so we see mini scenes of his life. Sometimes it feels a bit long  but there is enough happening and there is laughter and the story keeps moving. 
Karim and his family are likeable people. His dad Haroon (Ankur Bahl) and mother, the nervous and fidgety, Margaret (Bettrys Jones) are  brilliant. 
The father and son relationship is a delight to watch. Jones also doubles up as the angst ridden posh girl, Eleanor, whom Karim meets when he joins a stage company. 
The Buddha of Suburbia‘ is as much the father’s story as the son’s, as  Haroon also learns a lot about himself, as he reinvents himself as a yoga guru and eastern philosopher, not averse to doing a head stand in his Y-front chuddies! 
Haroon falls in love with Eva (Lucy Thackeray) a woman he later marries. She goes from being a fun-loving kaftan and scarf wearing hippie smoking joints to a bourgeois twin-set and pearls with a Thatch hair style suburban woman, acquiring respectability. 
Karim’s best friend is Jamila (Natasha Jayetileke) a ‘friend with  benefits’ but at that moment he is in love with Eva’s son, the languid Charlie (Tommy Belshaw). 
Jamila is the daughter of ‘Uncle’ Anwar (Simon Rivers) and Aunti Jeeta  (Rina Fatania) – family friends from Bombay (now renamed Mumbai) who run Paradise Stories, the local super-market. 
The set design by Rachana Jadhav is open plan with a build on the split  stage with a garden to the right and a bedroom to left and further spaces  occupied with activities such as Deven Modha’s character (an off-stage  cover) playing records evoking life. 

The seventies style of décor and clothes are lavishly created with attention to detail, as well as the music which is a mixture of pop tunes and original sound by Niraj Chag. 
Dee is great as Karim but he doesn’t show a lot of emotion and the only  time you feel his pain is when he betrays Changez played by Raj Bajaj as a convincing ‘freshie’ immigrant  – who loves Arthur Conan Doyle,  creator of Sherlock Holmes and enjoys dressing in his deerstalker hat,   complete with binoculars and whom has been brought over to get married to  Jamila and experiences a racist attack. 
There is a lot of sex in the show depicted with party poppers going off  or fruit penises when couples orgasm and it is playful rather than  erotic. 
There is a hugely enjoyable section that parodies an Asian actor getting  into theatre when Karim being asked to play Mowgli to method acting with  director, Matthew Pyke (Ewan Wardrop) who asks him to “build a character  from your own background – or someone black”. 

All the cast at these workshops dress in black polos under blue  dungarees and support black framed specs.  One even has a shock of  silver spiky hair and resembles director, Emma Rice who has directed this adaptation.  
There is a whole conversation about identity and representation that  underscore this enjoyable and engaging show.  
Acv rating: **** (out of five) 

*Interview with actors son Dee Ahluwalia (Karim) and father Anukur Bahl  (Haroon)

All pictures: ©SteveTanner/RSC  
‘The Buddha of Suburbia’, by Hanif Kureishi, writer & co-adapter and  
directed by Emma Rice, as co-adapter and showing until June 1 at The  
Swan Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre, Waterside,  
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6BB

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture