First Night: The Black Album, National Theatre, London

1.00

Kureishi's brilliant novel is better left unsaid

It lives on the page but it dies on the stage. That, alas, is the story of Hanif Kureishi's second brilliant novel, The Black Album, which in 1995 picked up on the Salman Rushdie fatwah and the rising cultural phenomenon of British Muslim fundamentalism while cracking open the whole issue of what should form the basis of a liberal multicultural education programme.

The National's co-production with Tara Arts has its heart in the right place but its judgemental faculties absolutely nowhere. How can something so absolutely boring and tritely old-fashioned in presentational terms claim to be widening the NT's remit, or "bringing in new audiences"?

The basic story is that of the semi-autobiographical character Shahid, who arrives in the Big Smoke from Kent and falls in love (or at least, lust) with his university tutor Deedee Osgood. She lectures about Prince and Madonna while he wants to learn about more serious artists.

I love the way in the book Kureishi expresses this tension between an interest in high and popular culture, it invades his writing, and has never been resolved in BBC arts programmes, but nor has he found a way of translating it to the stage. And Shahid's dilemma is one rooted in the tragedy of cultural assimilation, or accumulation. Jatinder Verma's stunningly prosaic, badly cast and very badly designed (by Tim Hatley) production in the Cottesloe auditorium at the NT – it all looks like a retread of a best forgotten fringe play of about 1979 – brings in messy video back projections, an awful diluted backing track of acid house music, distant sound effects that are totally dislocated from the "live" action, and a complete misunderstanding of the novel's picaresque progression.

The sheer joy of Kureishi's descriptive passages of zooming around London, Muslim brothers finding their voices, weird parties, dodgy co-conspirators (the young cockney character of Strapper is played by Glyn Pritchard as a superannuated Iggy Pop punk type – with a bald patch) setting targets, is completely befuddled.

So is the sexy, central strain of Shahid's relationship with Deedee, a character stripped in Tanya Franks's performance of her profound significance as an educationalist poised between serious intentions and serious hedonism. The Islamic cell offers no serious third alternative.

Kureishi never mentions Rushdie or The Satanic Verses by name, but the show flashes the novel as a sort of historic talisman of the ongoing struggle. This is a mistake, as the dramatic arguments, such as they are, steer clear of the specific issues raised and misunderstood in that novel. Jonathan Bonnici plays Shahid like a willing cipher, which demonstrates the gulf between a fictional and dramatic character: he's completely uninteresting, because we don't hear how he talks and thinks, which we do in the novel.

Kureishi started off in the theatre and wrote some fine plays. But this recycling of novels is not a good idea; 10 years ago the National presented his own version of Intimacy as a toe-curling social comedy; the pith of it was brilliantly done in a Patrice Chereau film soon afterwards. Let's hope someone's on hand to rescue The Black Album on celluloid before too long.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015