Wah! Wah! Girls at Sadler’s Wells: stereotypically splendid
Bollywood meets Brit-com meets social commentary in the fun, frenetic new offering from Sadler’s Wells. Wah! Wah! Girls brings together a dizzying panoply of settings and genres as a whole heap of influences vie for our attention and help to define our sense of self in a brave new cosmopolitan world.
The play aspires to tackle big, contemporary issues, from poverty and prostitution to honour killing. The dominant theme though, is female empowerment. Set in Stratford (where else), Wah! Wah! Girls follows the lives of the people involved with matriarch Soraya’s traditional, tasteful Mujra dancing club. Along the way there is high melodrama, low slapstick, mild peril and a whole heap of dancing.
A show like this will always be about the music and it largely impresses. The routines were spectacular and the songs pleasingly diverse (I love this town saw Bollywood meet reggae by way of Gus-the-lovable-chimney-sweep). But it was the sense of fun wafted off the stage that really got the crowd going. This was a company that was really enjoying itself and it was very infectious.
If the “edgy” content was sometimes at risk of being swallowed by all the glamour and the fun, then some nice stylistic touches kept it on the ground. The repeated pigeon motif brought together Indian culture and the grimy inner city, and the gang members who stalked the streets in (what else?) hoodies add to the portrayal of the inner city as a faceless, dangerous place. Soraya’s club was somewhat simplistically depicted as a safe, colourful haven in a sinister grey world.
But in danger of tarnishing all the fun was the constant reversion to stereotypes. The script incorporated literally all of the stereotypes you could ever think of through plots, tropes, characters and jokes. From the spunky Northern lass to the streetwise Polish builder to the misogynist, deluded, slightly stupid evil brother, there was no inventiveness with characterisation.
This is not always a bad thing. The play is largely self-aware and there are some excellent comic moments, mostly shared out between Rina Fatania and Philip Brodie, which involve the subversion of their inherently stereotypical characters. But I can’t help but think that this was a wasted opportunity to really get under the skin of the human side of large social issues.
Not particularly subversive then. But Wah! Wah! Girls is deceptively pensive. There is definitely substance hidden under the oodles of style, along with recognition of some of the big issues facing an inner city which has had an Olympiad dumped on top of it. But what really shines through though, is a sense of fun, glamorous escapism. The incorporated genres are used best when they provide a technicolour antithesis to the blandness of the everyday. And after all, only a cold-hearted villain could dislike a play in which good triumphs over evil, dark secrets are overcome, traditions and modern ideas are reconciled and the guy gets the girl. Or is it the girl gets the guy?
Wah! Wah! Girls is at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from 24th May until 23rd June 2012.
Watch the making of Wah! Wah! Girls here: