London culture

The Black Album (review)


(Visit London, 26 July 2009) It’s not often that you find religious radicalism, comedy and the artist formerly known as Prince in the same sentence – let alone the same play. But award-winning author Hanif Kureishi has managed it in The Black Album.

The new production is Kureishi’s stage adaptation of his own novel, also called The Black Album, which takes its name from Prince’s unreleased but widely bootlegged album of 1987.

The music theme continues with a energetic soundtrack from Sister Bliss from Faithless. Who better to do the music for a play about religion than a member of the group who once sang God Is A DJ? The mix of 80s classics had me tapping my feet as soon as I entered the National Theatre.

The scene is set 20 years ago in 1989 – the year that a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his controversial book The Satanic Verses.  The play explorers the religious tensions of the era, the repercussions of which are still felt today, through Shahid Hasan (played with energy by Jonathan Bonnici), a young Asian boy leaving leafy Sevenoaks to study in the bright lights of London.

The Black Album deals with some pretty heavy issues: religious fanatism, drugs, racial identity, sex and violence, yet at times it felt more like a comedy sitcom. Family dramas were peppered with comic insights into Pakistani domestic life, Shahid’s brother Chili (Robert Mountford) was like a flamboyant Boycie from Only Fools And Horses, and there was even a starring role from an aubergine pakora!

Like the multi-named, cross-dressing Prince, the characters each juggle different identities. Watching the play, the hardest part was not deciding who to believe, but trying to figure out what they believed.

I’m off to the upcoming talk on 10 August with Hanif Kurieshi and the play’s director Jatinder Verma in search of enlightenment!


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