The Snap theatre company, which adapted Hanif Kureishi's film My Beautiful Laundrette for the stage last year, is now putting on a production of his Whitbread award-winning first novel (and subsequent television series), The Buddha of Suburbia.
Founded in 1979, Snap is one of the few touring companies catering to the 15-25 age group, and Kureishi's 1990 novel is just the thing to entice young people into the theatre. Dealing with sex, drugs and racial tension in 1970s south London, its central characters are 17-year-old Karim, who is dabbling in sexual experimentation and trying to please his newly Buddhist father, and Charlie, a Pink Floyd-loving punk rocker.
Kureishi gave Snap's founder and director, Andy Graham, the freedom to do as he wished. "If you don't give people free rein, it makes them crazy," says Kureishi, whose input consisted of talking about the play's context with Graham. "I know what it's like. I write movies and work in theatre. Letting someone do this with my work is a risk that ultimately I can live with. If it works, it's terrific, and it makes my work more accessible to a new audience." The resulting production uses video projections and has a soundtrack blending punk and traditional Asian music.
It took Graham nine months to find the cast of six - four Asian and two white actors. "It has been a long haul to find the right people," he says, "because what I was looking for was very specific. The production has to find a truth in which the characters seem real, but at the same time the actors have to embody spiritual and political qualities, as well as play with a light touch, because The Buddha of Suburbia is a comedy."
The characters are, Graham says, "representative of a time that was very important in British culture in the 1970s". Karim's oddball friends and relatives include a Japanese prostitute, a charismatic theatre director, the rampant feminist Jamila, who is in an unhappy arranged marriage with a one-armed husband, and the independent Eva.
"I am committed to Hanif's work," says Graham, who also directed Snap's production of My Beautiful Laundrette. "Partly because of the opportunity for theatre to have something to say, but also because his material is very beautiful, often very severe - but always alive. It doesn't matter that it is set back in the 1970s. It still questions what it is to be British."
'The Buddha of Suburbia', Watermans, Brentford TW8 (020-8232 1010) Thursday to 14 February; The Lowry, Salford (0870 7875780) 18 to 21 February; then touring (www.snaptheatre.co.uk)
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