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Dishoom! review at Watford Palace, London – ‘light-hearted and colourful’

Gurkiran Kaur and Bilal Khan in Dishoom!. Photo: Richard Lakos/The Other Richard Gurkiran Kaur and Bilal Khan in Dishoom!. Photo: Richard Lakos/The Other Richard
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There are billowing waves of nostalgia in Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play Dishoom!. Not just for the 1970s, playfully recreated in Neil Irish’s ambitious set design or Andy Kumar’s authentic costumes, but also for the iconic movie Sholay. A classic of Hindu cinema, the film provides inspiration for the hero Simon, as he struggles to find his place in the world amid family squabbles and the rise of the National Front. Simon may be disabled but an introduction to Sholay on a Betamax video recorder helps him nurture his inner superhero.

Bhatti covers a lot of emotional territory in her play and there are moments in Pravesh Kumar’s production that seem laboured. Striving to delve into every character’s motivation, the central story sometimes drifts out of focus but it’s brought sharply back through Walter Mitty-style flights of fancy. These moments have a musical theatre quality to them, throbbing with neon lights, pumping Bhangra music and flashes of choreography in an imitation of Sholay.

It’s difficult not to warm to Bilal Khan, making his professional debut as Simon. Khan concisely captures the awkwardness and angst as the boy becomes a man. It helps that he is supported by an animated cast including an hilarious Seema Bowri as the capricious Bibi and Gurkiran Kaur as the lovable if geeky Baljit. Dishoom! may lack the lyricism of Kumar’s earlier work, such as Britain’s Got Bhangra, but it takes the well-worn rites-of-passage formula and gives it a fresh perspective.

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Light-hearted and colourful but occasionally unfocused rites-of-passage drama