The Bollywood Trip, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre (1/5)


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The Independent Culture

The Bollywood Trip is a Danish musical about a self-proclaimed Bollywood star who transforms the lives of inmates and uptight staff in a Copenhagen psychiatric unit. It is every bit as awkward as that sounds.

Republique Theatre Company’s production is a well-meaning soup of simplistic ideas. Even the electroshock therapy dance (yes, it happens) is too bland to be really offensive.

Haroon (Janus Nabil Bakrawi) is admitted to the unit after an attempted suicide. The staff try to make him accept that he is really Thomas Lindorf, adopted from Mumbai by a Danish couple. Meanwhile, he takes over the hospital with Bollywood numbers and lessons in love, helping psychiatrist Jens to woo nurse Mette, while other patients clown around the edges.

Throughout, the show makes a clunky opposition between the escapism of Bollywood and glum Denmark, which will only find release by embracing its inner Haroon. Psychiatrist and patient have laboured debates about realism and fantasy, with gestures to race and identity. Dancers pop up to sway around Haroon as he makes his points, leading into musical numbers.

These are designed to sweep away all opposition, but Stephan Grabowski’s Bollywood-flavoured score is efficient rather than irresistible. The dance scenes lack sensuality. Choreographed by Southbank Centre artist in residence Gauri Sharma Tripathi, they have some brisk footwork and spins, but no abandon. The fantasy looks underpowered and penny-pinched. When the story darkens in the second half, the dances become half-baked evocations of madness, dancers flapping their straitjacket sleeves.

Rolf Heim’s production is small-scale, with a hard-working cast and stylised production design by Sisse Gerd Jørgensen. The stage is a steep curved rake, with performers clambering up and sliding down it in elation or despair. The musicians sit at the sides of the stage, sometimes roped into the action as extra patients. Performers help to shift the scenery, or break the fourth wall with jokes: “No, we’re doing it in English tonight”. I assume the production has lost a lot in translation; teasing the audience must be easier in the original language.

The cast do their best with the material. Thomas Corneliussen gives Jens tense, hopeful body language and a believable sense of idealism. Janus Nabil Bakrawi has swagger, but lacks the warmth to make Haroon’s egotism charming. As Mette, poor Laura Müller gets to have no inner life at all – she’s only there to respond to Haroon’s cheesy chat-up lines, and to reward Jens.