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Bhangra Nation | Birmingham Rep

New musical Bhangra Nation, which is directed by Stafford Arima, can best be described as an explosion of colour, energy and joy that begins from the first note of the opening number until the final bow at curtain call. Writers Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew create a world in an American college where individuals tend to question their identity most, and explore the meaning of identity and culture, celebrating the journey of figuring out who you are through dance. We are presented with Mary, a bi-racial student wanting to implement different styles into their team's Bhangra routine, and Preeti who believes in following tradition without wavering from the dance’s origin. Mary (Jena Pandya) goes on to create her own team with a wide range of culturally diverse members, all of which however cannot dance.

The show is filled with humour that doesn’t go unnoticed by the audience due to the cast's excellence in comedic timing and over exaggerated embodiments of their characters. It is a musical that doesn’t require its audience to have knowledge of what Bhangra is, but gives people that are unaware of these various dance styles and traditions the opportunity to learn. There is a hybridity throughout the show of various forms of dance, from Bollywood, Kathak, Bharatanatyam and hip hop to tap, which choreographer Rujuta Vaidya has effectively combined to create a power house performance. With dance and music being at the heart of this musical, each performer put their all into the choreography with skill and energy, telling a joyful story of sharing culture and helping each other to find themselves.

The music and lyrics by Sam Willmot are impactful and provides the production with an ongoing heart-beat, as it supports the dances and underlies some dialogue whilst following the theme of the musical having its own hybridity in styles of music. Unfortunately, whilst the score was an excellent component of the musical, the voices of some of the cast were not. As a company they sang with power and accuracy, however some soloists sounded unsure of themselves, mostly hitting their notes but leaving us nervous for the next potential flat or sharp sound. With that said, it did not take away from the immense enjoyment that this musical created, and was made up for in the beautiful range of dancers amongst the cast.

Zaynah Ahmed as Preeti created some very touching moments as she told her character’s story through graceful movements uncovered after a strong performance as controlling student. Another stand out performance was Jena Pandya as Mary. Pandya’s Mary almost acted as a mirror to Preeti as she also showed some touching moments through a wonderful Kathak dance, demonstrating her desire for a deeper connection with her passed mother and an understanding of her identity.

The creative team overall did a fantastic job at creating a vibrant stage full of colour and fun. Linda Cho’s costume designs filled the stage with character whether it be through flowing materials, bright colours or casual clothing, each fitting perfectly with the scenario they were made for. The set was intricate and well-designed by Michael Taylor who transported us from the college, to the dormitories, to India and back again. Through these designs, the audience were given the chance to connect with the characters in their environments, Preeti with her family in India and Mary with her mother through the mirror in her dance studio.

Bhangra Nation throughout was full of joy, diversity and fun, and demonstrated the power that dance has on identity and culture. It left us with the desire to explore further into the depths of dance, and we suggest you do too with this musical at the Rep in Birmingham until the 16th of March. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Craig Sugden


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