Review: Anita and Me

Richard Lutz reviews a play about culture clash and coming of age in the time of Enoch Powell.

Meera Syal has taken her semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in an Asian family in a small mining town and staged it at the Birmingham Rep

Anita and Me is, at heart, a soft-centred story, lovingly told with a predicable plot, about a young girl cosseted by a warm-hearted Indian household but intrigued by the rough edges of the Black Country white world back in the seventies.

So, it’s a culture clash at best set in the seventies – the sari meets The Strawbs, the tikka melts into T Rex, bangra confronts Bowie.


..a love letter to the Black Country…


Syal’s heroine is a young teen named Meena, who wants to pull away from her Punjabi heritage to swim with the tough racey racist edge of Midlands culture in the form of Anita -swearing, rebelling, angry at being left behind as the Black Country descends into post industrial depression.

Will Meena see the light and follow the more aspirational path her hard-working parents want to follow? Will Meena accept she is about to be an older sister with the imminent arrival of a baby brother? Will she accept the arrival of a wise granny from India?

Of course she will. Anita and Me is, at heart, a love story about Syal’s upbringing. There are little surprises in the story’s arc.

But there is a poignant, tougher tale about the obstacles faced by her elders, played with aplomb by Ammet Chana as her father, Ayesha Dharker as her warm hearted mother and a sterling performance by Yasmin Wilde as her worldly grandmother who has a lesson or two to offer about India and the deprivations of the Empire. Janice Connolly (comedienne Barbara Nice to you and me) adds a lighter touch as a kindly neighbour. They tell a tale of twisted racism, the stresses of entering a culture that only slightly accepts them and the need to improve themselves by moving to the wonders of nearby Wolverhampton (yes, it got laughs).

Actress Mandeep Dhillon portrays a perky but uni-dimensional Meena as she pulls away from her Indian background towards the crummy edges of Black Country life; tough hearted Anita is given the rough diamond approach by Jalleh Alizadeh , successfully strangling her lines with an hilarious Black Country accent almost undecipherable to the human ear.

There are plenty of laughs about Indian perceptions of Black County life in this era  of Enoch Powell, the National Front and the loss of small town communities, and some songs that, unfortunately,  sometimes sit uncomfortably in this coming-of-age play.

But, in all, a good night out that plays well to a Birmingham audience. Whether it can fill the bill outside the Midlands, which understands the nuances of the Black Country world, is another matter.

Until 24th October. Tickets 0121 236 4455