The dancing contest at the heart of Strictly Dandia allows it to borrow its title from the Baz Luhrmann movie - although My Big Fat Gujarati Dancing Competition would have served equally well. For the writers, Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith (who also directs), the story, if not the song, remains the same. Young lovers reach across cultural barriers, to the horror of their respective families and communities.
On the surface, the prevailing mood is of an American movie, even the setting, a hall in a north-London leisure centre, giving it a Hollywood, prom-in-the-gymnasium feel. But for all the show's daftness (a big Dirty Dancing-style finale, for example) and the familiarity of its theme (we've been dancing to this tune from Stratford-upon-Avon to Hollywood via Joan Lingard, among countless others, for centuries), it still evinces a vitality all its own. Even if the end result is not the life-affirming, set-the-audience-a-whooping affair that the Tamasha Theatre Company had perhaps hoped for, it remains a clear and passionate night of British folk theatre.
It is refreshing that such a folk-oriented show transferred from the Edinburgh International Festival and not the Festival Fringe. It belongs in the great tradition of vigorous British folk and political theatre - more familiar at the Fringe than the EIF - disclosing, as it does, Britain's "untold stories" (Tamasha Theatre Company's mission statement). Here, traditional Hindu rites and ceremonies are exposed to the wider community.
This affectionately satirical piece is set at Navratri, the nine nights of dancing that lead up to the Hindu Festival of Lights. The apple cart of this celebration of matchmaking and cultural preservation is upset by the arrival of Raza (Paul Tilley), a demon dancer (Saturday Night Fever is one of several pop-culture touchstones) and Muslim, who has fallen in love with the belle of Navratri, Preethi (Fiona Wade). The three Hindu castes, who have hitherto played out their own subtle internecine West Side Stories, unite to banish him and blacken the name of Preethi and her family.
The play's strength lies in Liam Steel's choreography. Although the dancers in a dandia all brandish sticks, Steel mercifully renders the laboured morris-dancing parallel in the programme notes redundant. Instead, he fuses the dandia with contemporary black urban moves, creating a compelling Anglo-Indian mix to Shri's pumping score. Tilley stands out in theenergetic routines, combining a graceful dancer's posture with a giddying freedom of movement.
The gags could be sharper, and the night is dotted with nervy performances. The cast is hampered in places by a hideous sound-mix that often drowns out integral lines. But the production overcomes its flaws and clichés by staying true to Tamasha's aim of uncovering rich and diverse stories for the delight of the community portrayed and the fascination and understanding of its neighbours. This it does with clarity and a sense of fun.
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