Review: Mushy could do better but still charms on Northampton stage

Medhavi Patel, Varun Raj and Oliver Longstaff. Picture: The Other Richard
Medhavi Patel, Varun Raj and Oliver Longstaff. Picture: The Other Richard

Lily Canter reviews Mushy: Lyrically Speaking at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton

The story of stammering schoolboy Musharaf 'Mushy' Asghar who featured on popular Channel Four show Educating Yorkshire is celebrated in Mushy: Lyrically Speaking at Royal and Derngate this week.

Varun Raj and Oliver Longstaff. Picture: The Other Richard

Varun Raj and Oliver Longstaff. Picture: The Other Richard

Developed by Rifco Theatre Company which nurtures British Asian talent, the production tells the story of a British Pakistani boy with inner confidence who struggles to vocalise it due to his debilitating stutter.

Four British Asian males (director, writer, actor and rapper) collaborated on this musical retelling set in Dewsbury which is performed with great energy, poignancy and wit.

Varun Raj gives a standout performance perfectly capturing the conflicted inner monologue of Mushy as he approaches adulthood. Struggling with childhood trauma, a domineering yet vulnerable mother and the pressures of exams, Mushy navigates his way through school, family and fame with honesty and dignity.

It would have been easy for writer and Rifco artistic director Pravesh Kumar to create a play filled with pathos but instead he stays true to the real life Mushy, a charming and confident young man who is always the first to put his hand up in class despite his speech difficulties.

The production is scattered with lyrical numbers written by Luton rapper Raxstar and there are plenty of nods to Bollywood with Medhavi Patel, who plays Mushy's melodramatic mother, coming into our own when given the opportunity to dance.

Meanwhile Oliver Longstaff as Mushy's teacher Mr Burton provides some light, if sometimes obscure, relief. Overall the cast of three give credible performances but accents do slip from time to time and the playing of multiple characters does sometimes jar.

The musical numbers are also a mixed bag with the more energetic raps landing well but Blowing Bubbles feeling a little half-hearted and simplistic.

The journey of Mushy is an inspiring one but the narrative does not always gel, with a slow first act and confusion over which scenes are part of the television documentary or not. A scene involving Mr Burton singing seems superfluous to the plot and it is not clear until the end why Mushy is trying to buy an iPhone.

There were also a few distracting technical issues on the night including rogue lighting and a continual wardrobe malfunction.

However, the production really comes into its own in the vibrant second half which has more pace, humour but also depth, as Mushy and his mother come to terms with their past.

Although far from perfect it is refreshing to see a modern British Asian story on stage and with some fine tuning Mushy should enjoy a successful tour.

* Mushy: Lyrically Speaking runs until September 25. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.