★★★| Miss Meena And The Masala Queens – West Yorkshire Playhouse
Miss Meena’s drag club is on the brink of closing; and like Miss Meena herself, it is tired, run down and needing a boost. But two strangers are about to enter Miss Meena’s life, both of whom have very different consequences for her. With people that she can trust, and people she can’t, close by, Miss Meena must decide whether or not the show will go on.
Tackling the difficult subject of sexuality and drag in the British Asian community, Miss Meena is a socially relevant piece of theatre and one which serves both the purposes of being entertaining, but also telling the seldom heard stories of the British Asian drag community. The story is in many ways very familiar, and there are a number of elements which make the narrative and the characters feel a little like a British Asian combination of the Priscilla and Burlesque movies.
From the small cast, Raj Ghatak stands out, with a heartfelt performance as the titular character; and there is some decent support from Jamie Zubairi as Munni; whist Nicholas Prasad fills out the sling backs nicely as Shaan.
But it is the writing that really shines through, and whilst the story is a narrative which is familiar, it is the detail within the characters and the universal themes of conflict for the gay community which shine through. Most of the characters struggle with their sexuality or their identity in some way, and each of them tackle their internal struggle differently. There is a real theme of family running through the show, from the perspective of both family in the traditional sense, but also the family made up of those we chose to surround ourselves with. There is also a relevant and valid social comment about the LGBT community having a safe space to go to; and the purpose of that space; whether it is to express themselves, away from a repressive family environment, or whether it is somewhere to be supported by those who understand the impact of such repression.
That said, and despite the themes, the show remains uplifting, comedic and fun, with some great Bollywood lip-synch numbers which serve the purpose of being musical interludes rather than narrative progression, some physical comedy, a few snappy one-liners and a genuine warmth that resonates from the stage. By the time the show concludes in a cascade of glam, sparkle, saris and a bhangra version of a gay anthem, the characters really do feel like old friends.
Miss Meena and the Masala Queens is a relevant, entertaining and socially progressive piece of theatre.
Miss Meena and the Masala Queens is currently playing at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds until Saturday 17th June 2017. Visit www.wyp.org for details. You can read our interview with Pravesh Kumar, the director, here
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.