Book by Pravesh Kumar, Lyrics by Raxstar. Based on the true story of Musharaf Asghar from the Channel 4 series Educating Yorkshire
Rifco Theatre Company and Watford Palace
8 October 2019 – 12 October 2019; 2hr
After a 12-month closure and £15.8m re-amp, Leeds Playhouse – changing its name from West Yorkshire Playhouse to the original name of the theatre company that started it all in 1970 – reopened this week. There's an open weekend (Oct 11-13) and the announcement of an ambitious and appealing season (see below) that takes it through to next spring. Meanwhile one of two opening productions is Mushy: Lyrically Speaking...
Channel 4’s 2013 series Educating Yorkshire took a long hard look at Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury and featured an episode in which the sort of English teacher we all wish we’d had, helped a boy to overcome a bad stammer.
It was one of those TV moments that generated huge public attention and the boy, Musharaf Asghar (aka Mushy) and the teacher, Matthew Burton, became overnight celebrities.
Their story has now become a rap musical from London-based Rifco – a company dedicated to celebrating and reflecting British Asian experiences – and there’s certainly something to celebrate here. It’s a heart-warming story and an entertaining show.
Teacher Burton (Oliver Longstaff) began by using the iambic pentameter beat of Shakespeare’s sonnets to help Mushy (Varun Raj) before pinching an idea from the film The King’s Speech and putting a pair of headphones on him to play loud music and drown out the sound of his own voice while he reads aloud.
Cleverly, the play uses rap numbers to replace Mushy’s stammer and give him a fluent voice in soliloquies while he still struggles with speech outside secure situations.
The script, by Rifco founder and artistic director Pravesh Kumar, backs up this foreground story with episodes in Mushy’s home life, where his mother (Medhavi Patel) is a first-generation Asian immigrant with ambitious ideas for her son to become a doctor or lawyer, or at the very least, a pharmacist.
In the second, longer half, it moves on from schooldays to see how Mushy dealt with his unexpected fame, and here it does drift around too much. A few cuts would quite clearly have benefited things and as this is the last week of the tour/run, I’m surprised they haven’t been made.
There's an excellent cast, sharp production values, an intriguing, local story for the Playhouse and it's an overall good choice for the first show in the impressively, comfortably revamped Courtyard Theatre – the middle-sized of the venue’s three performance spaces.
The first home-produced play of the new era at the Playhouse is There Are No Beginnings, by local writer Charley Miles (Oct 11–Nov 2), a 1970s-set drama of fear stalking the streets of Leeds.
The new musical version of Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette follows (Oct 15 -26) before Northern Ballet’s Dracula (Oct 29-Nov 2).
There are visits by Graeae and English Touring Theatre in November and the rave-reviewed Leeds Playhouse co-production Barber Shop Chronicles (Nov 20–23). The main Christmas production is The Wizard Of Oz (Nov 20-Jan 25).
Things get even more interesting next year with Night of the Living Dead Remix (Jan 23–Feb 15); Sondheim’s A Little Night Music co-produced with Opera North (May 9–6 June), and Pam Gems’ Piaf (May 27–June 13).