Review: ★★★★ Bhangra Nation, Birmingham Rep

Bhangra Nation is a jubilant, pulsating celebration of identity and community and is set to dazzle audiences with its UK premiere.

The East Lansing University Tigres have made it to Nationals with their signature dance fusion of hip-hop and bhangra. But, tensions soon arise between team-members Mary (Jena Pandya) and Preeti (Zaynah Ahmed) whose opinions differ on the authenticity of the Tigres routine. Preeti wishes to respect bhangra in the traditional sense, opting to honour her Punjabi heritage by avoiding any innovations. Whereas Mary, who is bi-racial, wishes to make the Nationals routine even more progressive through the incorporation of khatak, a dance style loved by her mother.

Fired up by the disagreement and spurred on by roommate Sunita (Siobhan Athwal) Mary forms her own team: a disparate band of dancers mostly new to the style. With some much needed assistance from local Bollywood icon Rekha (Sohm Kapila), the team are soon whipped into shape and ready to take on the formidable Tigres for the trophy.

At its roots, Bhangra Nation is a well-worn rites-of-passage musical bearing extreme similarity to Bring It On, which follows the cut-throat world of competitive high-school cheerleading. Yet, the production does have an air of freshness. Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew’s book is both funny and full of heart with themes of identity, community and heritage shining through in abundance. This is also thanks to excellent direction from Stafford Arima who excels in creating a cohesive and powerful show.

Though, the real highlight of Bhangra Nation, quite obviously, is the dancing. The strong, magnetic cast bring energy and passion to Rujuta Vaidya’s dynamic choreography whilst Sam Willmott’s catchy score effortlessly combines musical theatre ballads with frenetic bhangra beats.

The musical is a visual marvel. Kaleidoscopic projections by David Bengali and vibrant costumes, designed by Linda Cho, fuse to form a visual celebration of colour in an engaging and joyous spectacle.

There are a few loose threads and some of the musical numbers are unfortunately rather forgettable. Though, this is a relatively minor point in what is otherwise a phenomenal production.

Birmingham is the perfect stage for Bhangra Nation. Thrilling and charming in equal measure, this energetic production is truly infectious, and an absolute must-see!

(Image: Craig Sugden)

Elisha Pearce
Elisha Pearce

Elisha is 22, and is a graduate of University of Lincoln’s MA Theatre. Having completed her studies, she has now returned to her Staffordshire roots where she spends her time either at the gym, working on her debut play, or researching PhD courses. She is a new member of the Upper Circle team, and is super keen to get stuck in.


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