A load of old Bollywood

Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral | Lyric, Hammersmith, London
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It's as though I've been invited to someone else's office panto, riddled with in-jokes and staged according to bizarre, long-cherished conventions. It's hard enough to laugh when I don't get any of the references, harder still to sit back and enjoy the story when it's repeatedly blown to hell by shoehorned songs. I'll forgive the weird conventions - I'm the outsider and they're amateurs after all.

It's as though I've been invited to someone else's office panto, riddled with in-jokes and staged according to bizarre, long-cherished conventions. It's hard enough to laugh when I don't get any of the references, harder still to sit back and enjoy the story when it's repeatedly blown to hell by shoehorned songs. I'll forgive the weird conventions - I'm the outsider and they're amateurs after all.

But in fact I'm at the Lyric. And everyone around me seems to be having a pretty good time, laughing both at and with the actors. When an actress stumbles naffly down the stairs, miming slow-motion while a strobe flickers, everyone laughs at it, at her. But then - perplexingly - they're moved by her subsequent death, by the corny sub-soap dialogue from the regretful doctor. What am I missing here?

Tamasha Theatre Company's adaptation of the highest grossing Bollywood film ever has been recalled to the Lyric by popular demand but seems no closer to explicating the mystery for the uninitiated. The story is unashamedly simplistic - the arranged couple marry and fall in love, their brother and sister almost don't - and the best part of two hours pass before there is even a glimmer of genuine dramatic tension. Scenes conk out when there seems nothing more to say and the actors stroll off. When things grind to a complete halt, four dancing girls rush on and gyrate like an eastern Pan's People. No one seems to resent the contrived arrival of the songs or that the actors mime to an unvarying pre-recorded soundtrack.

Others have praised Kristine Landon-Smith's production for being "irresistibly charming" and "fresh and touching". These strike me as the words usually chosen by the Hon Sec to praise the DramSoc show. And that's exactly where I would expect to see actors swaying and swinging their shoulders along with the songs or smiling relentlessly like coke-sniffing Butlin's redcoats. That's where I would expect to see the lights suddenly switch to orange to indicate imminent smoochiness. That's where I would expect to encounter a script that revels in a Chucklevision level of humour.

But not on the professional stage. And don't tell me this is Bollywood, that this is simply the way it always is. If Tamasha want to do other than preach to the converted, they have a duty to attract the uninitiates, to befriend those of us with Western theatrical expectations.

Yes, I'm a bigoted European. Yes, I'm utterly ungiving to the conventions of the most successful movie culture outside of Los Angeles. And yes, I'm also ignoring the tastes of my 12 year-old son who surprised me by enjoying it. I tried, I just couldn't.

To 3 March (020-8741 2311)

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