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Review: Frankie Goes to Bollywood at HOME is ‘an engaging, emotion-packed show’

Frankie Goes to Bollywood at HOME is a vibrant and heartfelt new musical that explores the allure and pitfalls of the Bollywood film industry through the eyes of a starry-eyed protagonist.
Frankie Goes to Bollywood

In a world where some grassroots theatre is struggling to stay afloat, it is refreshing to see HOME team up with the small but mighty and well-known Rifco Theatre Company and the Watford Palace Theatre to produce the new musical Frankie Goes to Bollywood.

We follow our heroine Frankie (Laila Zaidi), as she navigates adulthood knowing that her mum will not be there by her side, following her untimely death when she was small.

Working in a cinema in Milton Keynes, she spends her time seeking escapism as she is a huge fan of Bollywood cinema. From the glitter and gold of the costumes to the huge song and dance numbers and the traditional, yet dated Bollywood/fairytale endings.

Frankie Goes to Bollywood at HOME

Frankie’s best friend Goldy (Kate Stasi) is much more realistic and even though she dreams of starring in films, she rejects these big-budget extravaganzas for the fact they always seem to pair up very young women with much older men. As another character puts it they sell dreams of true love, which builds over time to an audience, where the majority will marry strangers.

22 years ago A.R. Rahman and Don Black’s Bollywood-themed musical – Bombay Dreams hit the West End and played for two years, and it was seen by 1.5 million people. The genre still has a certain something and you can see why Rifco thought the time was right to revisit this setting for the stage.

The writer of the show Pravesh Kumar knows though, that sexism is rife in this film industry, as he writes from experience – having worked there. So instead of reselling and repackaging these dreams for theatre audiences, he questions this through the eyes of Frankie.

She has a chance to meet with a film director and the next thing she is leaving the concrete cows of Milton Keynes and finds herself starring in the types of films she ran towards to seek solace from grief and disappointment.

To begin with, the glitz and glamour appeal to her. But soon she realises that women are respected for the way they look and once these looks fade, they fall further down the pecking order. Yet the older male actors keep working, with young women looking up at them adoringly, just like the movie posters that used to adorn her bedroom wall.

Frankie begins to feel lost and her relationship with her friend Goldy starts to decay as quickly as her dream that superstardom equals happiness and fulfilment. As you have probably guessed, the plot of this new show is nothing you have not seen before within the setting of Hollywood or the music industry, and the narrative arcs can only go one way.

The first half has a few group numbers and once these emerge through the smoke-filled stage and reveal some of the key moves from Bollywood cinema, the audience feels relieved, as this is why they choose a show like this one.

Before the interval, there are not enough of this group dance numbers and because of that, what you see becomes a bit the samey, as the plot begins to go around in circles like Rishi Sunak appearing on the news and stating: “We are sticking to our plan” on repeat.

A ‘pacey’ second half

Thankfully the second half has more pace, and the characters begin to feel more developed and you find yourself rooting for them to shout “Down with the patriarchy” instead of allowing the Bollywood Kens to rule the beautiful and feisty Barbies.

Laila Zaidi, best known for her role in the TV show Ackley Bridge – excels as the dreamy protagonist. She manages to convey wide-eyed innocence one minute and steely determination the next. She seems to come alive whenever she is singing and dancing and brings full-on emotion to everything she does.

Katie Stasi is a real find. She could simply be saddled with the stock role of the best friend, who waits as her pal gets all the glory. Instead, she grabs the role by the scruff of the neck and conveys genuine anger at the selfishness of Frankie. When she sings, you sit up and listen, as her vocals hit you where it hurts, right when they need to. She is one mighty storyteller, and she revels in the fact that her character might have dreams but she remains realistic and less likely to be manipulated.

Navin Kundra is impressive as Prem but his role is too small for him to have the best impact. But when he is on stage, he does bring the Bollywood magic to the table, in terms of the musical sequences.

Helen K Wint and Gigi Zahir are both brilliant as two byproducts of the industry who need it, more than it needs them. They bring some much-needed sardonic humour to the piece and whenever they are on stage, the show has an edgy quality.

Bewigged and dressed in loud and garish costumes, Shakil Hussain embraces the ridiculousness of his character’s desire to stay young.

The ensemble brings the energy when it is needed, and I wish there were some more big dance numbers, as you cannot take your eyes off them when they are on stage.

Frankie Goes to Bollywood won’t give you any surprises In terms of plot development. It is not going to completely subvert any audience expectations in the same way that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie did.

But, what it does do is entertain and the show does a lot with very little in terms of budget and cast size. And something is refreshing about that. As there are moments when you can see cast members upping their game to make up for that. So much so, that during some of the song and dance numbers, they do more than a full-on massive company of 15 dancers.

Tasha Taylor Johnson’s songs are a mix of full-on pop numbers and beautiful ballads with a nod and a wink to the big full-on production numbers that our protagonist and the audience love. Sometimes these are sung in the style of Lily Allen, and others are very musical theatre. Both work well, in terms of variety.

Tickets for Frankie Goes to Bollywood at HOME

Frankie might have said Relax in the 1980s but I would ignore that and leave the house and get down to First Street ASAP. As you only have one week to catch Frankie Goes to Bollywood before she leaves and heads back to Milton Keynes.

Frankie Goes to Bollywood is at HOME until 25th May and can be booked here

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