Jonathan Hall reviews Rifco Theatre Company’s production of Mushy – Lyrically Speaking at the Leeds Playhouse.
Mushy – Lyrically Speaking
Rifco Theatre Company website
At the end of the performance, the audience at Leeds Playhouse whooped and cheered their enthusiasm for this funny, life-affirming, rap-musical story of one teenager’s personal journey. ‘Feel-good’ is an oft-overused adjective, but with this show by Rifco productions, it’s exactly the right term.
I have not seen ‘Educating Yorkshire’ so was unfamiliar with the story of Musharaf Asghar, and his battles to overcome his debilitating stammer, so my judgement of the tale told focussed solely on the drama I saw on stage. The show was- like the real-life it depicts- both simple and complex. It was simple in its portrayal of Mushy’s struggle and angst to overcome his stammer and complex in the many elements present in that story: an absent father, a fierce but loving mother, the pressure and derision of those around him plus the dilemmas these elements threw up. Should he follow expectations and train to be a Doctor? Or appear on reality TV? The life-changing rap technique that helped him overcome his speech impediment: was it a blessing- or a curse because of the pressures that it put him under? “Rags to riches” is usually a clearly defined story- what happens next when “riches” have been achieved is a tale that’s altogether more complex and less clear-cut: “Mushy” attempts both these elements. Then thrown into the mix there’s the stories of his supportive, over-worked teacher and proud, embattled mother. The strength of shows like ‘Educating Yorkshire’ lies in their episodic nature, portraying myriad stories one setting; the focus in Mushy often felt similarly split with different stories jostling against each other for attention. And if, as a result of this, at times plot points felt sudden or dramatic climaxes blurred it didn’t seem to impact on anyone’s enjoyment of the show- certainly not mine.
The show was driven with tremendous charisma by the cast of three. Varun Raj played Mushy with amiable intensity, never falling into the trap of portraying the young man as someone too self-aware of the amazing journey unfolding before him. As Mr Burton, his devoted teacher, Oliver Longstaff managed to totally avoid the clichéd trap of the over-worked under-appreciated educator, giving the character an inspiring freshness- plus as a gyrating Bollywood dancer, he truly stole the stage. Stand out for me was Medhavi Patel as Mushy’s devoted and domineering Ammi, with her plastic-covered furniture and the back garden all concreted over to save time and effort, despite her deep love of flowers.
The piece was directed at a sharp pace by Ameet Chana; supported by a versatile the set from Eleanor Bull; a set of gaudily coloured speakers that imaginatively changed to depict a variety of locations from home, to school and beyond.
‘Mushy’ is the sort of show I could see drawing a non-traditional audience into the newly refurbished Leeds Playhouse; the company Rifco is committed to giving previously unheard British Asian talent a platform- together these dynamics signify a welcome statement of things to come in this exciting venue.