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The Buddha of Suburbia, based on Hanif Kureishi’s novel, plays at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, in the inaugural season of co-directors Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey. The play is a co-production with Wise Children, the theatre company headed up by Emma Rice, who also takes on the mantle of director and co-adaptor in a show that seems to be a true passion project.

The story follows the haphazard and sexually charged journey of Karim (Dee Ahluwalia) as he chases love and lust, and longs to become an actor. Growing up among a British South Asian family in the socially and politically turbulent 1970s, Karim is open to all the experiences on offer, but learns about the fickleness and cruelty of human nature on his path towards enlightenment.

The play has the coveted Emma Rice flair, with a cast well-choreographed by Etta Murfitt, who swap effortlessly between roles. Karim takes to the microphone to tell his story directly to the audience, and the rest of the company fills in the gaps. Characters pop up occasionally to have imagined conversations with our protagonist, and the whole play has a strangely disjointed feeling, like a patchwork of Karim’s memories.

The company are, on the whole, very strong performers, with a few stand-out characters among them. Karim’s Dad, Haroon, is played by Ankur Bahl, who dances around the stage with 70’s style and great comic timing. Bettrys Jones is almost unrecognisable as she swaps from playing Karim’s mother, Margaret, to his lover, Eleanor.

Rina Fatania plays three vastly different but equally formidable characters: Karim’s auntie Jeeta, outspoken actor Tracey, and Marlene, the predatory wife of hit director Matthew Pyke. Pyke (Ewan Wardrop) got several big laughs from the audience - often as he was leading actors in a pretentious warm-up.

The production’s design fixes the story in the 1970s, with Vicki Mortimer’s costumes absolutely hitting the nail on the head - the play definitely hit its quota of loud shirts and flared trousers. Rachana Jadhav’s set design is innovative and spacious, transforming seamlessly from a rehearsal room, to a bathroom, to a boudoir. Composer Niraj Chag underlines the whole play with style, drawing on Karim’s taste in music, and blending it out into a thoughtful and lush score.

The play doesn’t quite manage to bring every strand of Kureishi’s novel to life - it felt like essential parts of the story were missing. It’s also quite long, clocking in at two and a half hours, not including the interval. Fans of the novel - or its 1993 TV adaptation - will likely enjoy seeing the story being brought to life in a new way.

Four Stars

Reviewed by Jessica Clixby on Tuesday 30 April, at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre, Stratford, where it runs until Saturday 1 June.