Anita and Me – Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Thursday, 9 March 2017
Sitting in a chilly auditorium in Blackpool, we were treated to a warm-hearted and humorous performance of this play based on Meera Syal’s semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the 1970s as part of the only Punjabi family in a close-knit all white mining community in the West Midlands. The set design realistically evokes the red brick terraced housing and is spot-on with 1970s interiors.
Aasiya Shah plays Meena, the gawky, bright Punjabi girl who forges an unlikely friendship with the seemingly cool and rebellious Anita (Laura Aramayo). Behind the facade though, Anita is the neglected daughter of an impoverished, troubled family and abandoned by her mother.
The first half of the play shows Meena’s family well integrated in the community. If anything, it is Anita’s family who are ostracised by their neighbours. This makes the violent racist attack on a visiting Punjabi council worker in the second half of the play all the more shocking. However, the play does not delve into the racial politics of the time, but instead focuses on the coming of age story and Meena’s eventual break with Anita.
Meena is surrounded by a loving extended family: her parents (Robert Mountford and ex-Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati), her aunt (Sejal Keshwala) and her formidable grandma, Nanimi, played with great humour and charisma by Rina Fatania.
Education is taken seriously in the play and the academically bright Meena has a glowing future in prospect, whereas Anita is isolated and destined, we are led to believe, for a bleaker future of early pregnancies and troubled relationships, repeating the pattern established by her parents.