Theatre review: Wah! Wah! Girls at the Peacock Theatre

Wah! Wah! Girls

Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, WC2

Four stars

New Sadler’s Wells production Wah! Wah! Girls, staged at its West End outpost the Peacock Theatre, is a British Bollywood musical that transports the exuberance of Indian cinema to a London setting.

Intended as a celebration of the capital’s “exhilarating diversity” (Sadler’s chief Alistair Spalding), the show is rooted in a melting pot community signalled by a population of hoodies, Polish handymen and grumpy Indian shopkeepers.

In the midst of this East End enclave is the Wah! Wah! Girls dancing club run by Soraya (the excellent Sophiya Haque) and her son Kabir (Tariq Jordan). The show centres on Kabir’s love for new dancer Sita (Natasha Jayetileke) and her conflict with Soraya.

Improbably, the clash is about dance styles. Soraya, a former traditional Mujra dancer, an elegant, sensual form danced by courtesans to entertain wealthy men, is offended by Sita’s fast-paced Bollywood moves.

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The result is a series of dazzling numbers that draws on both, from evocative flashbacks to Soraya’s youth in India, to a riotous scene where Sita and Kabir proclaim their love for each other while being spun around the stage atop shopping trolleys.

The conflict reaches fever-pitch in a spectacular dance-off between the two women, with the electronic score by Niraj Chag, which is used alongside classic Bollywood tunes, coming into its own, chopping and changing as the focus switches between the two.

In her programme notes, writer Tanika Gupta describes the typical western view of Bollywood as “high melodrama and idealised romance punctuated by over-the-top songs and dances”.

While she goes on to say there is much more to it, her attempts in Wah! Wah! Girls at elements of social commentary tend to fall flat.

It’s the melodrama, the dark secrets, unlikely twists, idealised love-at-first-sight and above all the over-the-top dance numbers that make the show so enjoyable.

Tom Marshall