Review: Bombay Superstar at MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton

Review: Bombay Superstar at MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton

by Alex Thurley-Ratcliff.

I haven’t been to  Southampton’s MAST enough – over the last few years I’ve ben to a couple of concerts and a comedy night and one film, so this was my first theatre visit. It was genuinely nice to be warmly welcomed by staff and volunteers, the bar was good and easy to get to and the seats were comfortable and well-ranked, giving me a good view with sufficient leg space.

Anyway – onto the performance. This tour from award-winning British Asian theatre company Phizzical is coming to an end at MAST after a small national tour. The company wants to “push boundaries in performing arts, presenting fresh, important and risqué Asian stories” and I can see why they chose the early Bollywood era for this musical – it offers a lot of scope for the company. Did they deliver this high goal?

It’s definitely got some plus points – great authentic music and endless sparkly costumes and costume changes, some fun nods to the themes and stereotypes of 1970s Bollywood and some jolly and well choreographed set dance pieces which reflect well on the production, even though with  only four dancers it doesn’t quite take you to the heights of true Bollywood! 

The strongest acting comes from leads Nisha Aaliya (Laila) and Rav Moore (Sikandar), but the cast doesn’t quite gel and there are some moments when the emotion of the writing or the dramatic moment just doesn’t come across. And that sets the tone for the acting – there are times when the character just doesn’t capture your heart – which left me wondering if that was intentional. I wanted passion and to be caught up in the emotions, but at one point, one character delivered a truly meaningful comment and then turned, dropping out of character before they had cleared the stage.

The storyline is classic Bollywood, starting with 16-year-old Laila seeking love and family in the big city, and then we follow her as she grows up as an actress, breaking boundaries and rules in the misogynistic film industry of the time. But the writing only weakly conveys this – you have to hunt for the message and the unfortunate direct-to-the-audience comments make the point rather too heavily in case you missed it. It’s cute, it’s hopeful, it’s got some moves, but it’s also just a little bit clunky and unsubtle. There isn’t enough lightness of touch in the script to draw you into the drama between the characters, not enough comedy to give you laughs and not enough clarity about what the writer is saying. Is it satire? Not quite. Social commentary – possibly, but not delivered strongly and with passion. Maybe it has fallen into the very trap it depicts – it cannot shake itself free of the social conventions of its cultural setting to be truly insightful and passionately angry.

Still, it’s an agreeable night out – with some good moments. MAST is definitely worth a visit and there are some good acts and events coming up over the end of the year. But for this production, when the script and some of the acting isn’t quite there, you realise they were definitely reaching for something that was sadly just out of reach.


Tickets for Bombay Superstar (15 – 19 November) are on sale at or 02380 711811.

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