In The Black Album Hanif Kureishi revisits his novel about 1989, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the beginnings of Islamic extremism in the West. (Rubbish claim to fame: I once spoke to Salman Rushdie on the phone while he was still under fatwa. It was a clash of literary titans - he asked to change the credit card he was using to pay for his internet access, and I helpfully obliged.) The stage adaptation's been absolutely hammered by the critics, and it certainly is massively flawed: On Kureishi's part, the biggest problem is that he demonstrates the various ideological arguments via people having debates, which may do the job but is far from satisfying dramatically. The acting is also patchy - there's good work from Tanya Franks as a flirtatious University professor, Beruce Khan as an easily-led disciple, Robert Mountford as the main character's brash older brother and Shereen Martineu in a variety of roles.. But in the lead role of Shahid, Jonathan Bonnici is rather mannered in his speech and jerky in his movements, while Glyn Pritchard is a caricature as Strapper.
The biggest offender though is director Jatinder Verma, whose production never really develops a consistent tone, lurches into cartoonish theatre that feels out of place and lacks focus. At times things seem rather amateurish - I was embarrassed on the actors' behalf during the bouncy, dancy scene changes. All that said, I don't think it quite deserves the 1-star reviews it's been getting. A missed opportunity it may be, but it is thought-provoking, sometimes funny and at least it's never dull.
The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi is booking until the 7th of October at the National Theatre's Cottesloe, prior to a national tour.