Magazine article The Spectator

Amateur Hour

Magazine article The Spectator

Amateur Hour

Article excerpt

Theatre

Bombay Dreams

(Apollo Victoria Theatre)

Benefactors (Albery)

Humble Boy (Gielgud)

Amateur hour

Toby Young

I was quite excited by the prospect of seeing Bombay Dreams. My first ever Andrew Lloyd Webber musical! He can't really be as bad as everyone says he is, can he? I was looking forward to mounting a trenchant defence of the veteran schlockmeister based on the appeal of this charmine musical.

Unfortunately, it's absolutely awful. Indeed, it's so bad I expect Lloyd Webber will quietly disassociate himself from it as it gradually sinks into oblivion. That shouldn't be too hard since he didn't actually compose the music. That credit goes to A.R. Rahman, though 'credit' may be the wrong word since, with the exception of `Shakalaka Baby', there isn't a single memorable tune in the show. But the problem with Bombay Dreams doesn't lie with the music, the lyrics, the choreography or the costumes. The problem lies with the book by Meera Syal. It's on a par with the book Ben Elton's written for We Will Rock You - and that's saying something.

Apparently, Lloyd Webber and Rahman wrote a story outline and then instructed Syal, a British-born Asian comedy writer, to come up with a treatment. The trouble is, she hasn't taken the story much beyond the treatment stage. Bombay Dreams consists of a series of big scenes that are only strung together in the loosest possible way. The central characters are constantly switching sides and changing their minds in ways that haven't been properly foreshadowed, and the upshot is that Bombay Dreams manages to be both formulaic and nonsensical. Syal hasn't done any of the intellectual work necessary to make the story work. I was expecting at least decent hack work in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but this is amateur hour.

Syal is one of the writers of Goodness Gracious Me, a BBC 2 sketch show that's been criticised for encouraging audiences to laugh at British Asians rather than with them, and the book for Bombay Dreams suffers from the same problem. The idea of putting on a Bollywood musical in the West End is a bold one, but there's nothing bold about the Indian characters in Bombay Dreams. They have a foolish, eager-toplease quality, like blacks in Hollywood films of the Thirties and Forties; they're there to entertain us with their quaint, slightly ludicrous ways rather than proudly embody their culture. …

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