Social Media

The Buddha of Suburbia - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Bethany Hill
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review.

How is it possible to be so happy and so miserable at the same time? The Buddha of Suburbia explores the complexities, messes and beauties of life and growing up with such authenticity in this new Royal Shakespeare Company production in collaboration with Wise Children.

The company. Photo by Steve Tanner.

At the top of the show, we are introduced to Karim who by self-admission is an Englishman born
and bred, almost. With an English mother and South Asian father, Karim is a seventeen year old growing up in 1970s Britain during a time of the food shortages, strikes and inflation. A time worlds away from today, right? Throughout Act One, Karim’s family dynamic and cultural diversity is explored as he faces the breakdown of the marriage of his parents. We also meet Jamila, Karim’s best friend, who faces an arranged marriage to a man she hasn’t met. Karim’s identity is also explored in other ways including his sexuality and hopes and dreams for the future as he navigates the ever changing world around him. In Act Two, we see Karim discover the theatre and pursue his dreams of being an actor in London, where he again faces the technicolour of society with new experiences and challenges. Here he meets Matthew Pyke, a theatre director who explores class and society alongside his own personal explorations backstage. The show in its entirety is hilarious with many laugh-out-loud moments whilst also provoking tears and gasps at moments. A true cacophony of experiences, like life itself.

From the moment you walk into The Swan theatre, the nostalgia of the 1970s hits you. The set, multi-storied and used brilliantly throughout, features disco balls, garish colours and nods to the seventies in abundance. A TV set plays advertisements from the day including The Milky Bar kid. The wonderful costume design by Vicki Mortimer enhances this further; I heard many an audience member gasping I had those trousers and delighting in the colourful time travel taking place. The show’s soundtrack also assists brilliantly in transporting you back including music from Joni Mitchell and The Bee Gees.

Thematically, this show manages to capture such authentic life experience as it explores the intricacies of the human experience. Underpinning the show’s narrative is the exploration of racial identity and racism. In key moments of the show, we see the worst that humanity has to offer as both Karim and other characters are attacked both verbally and physically and the aftermath of these events. We also see incredible diversity in the experiences of different South Asian characters in the show, from Jamila’s arranged marriage, to Haroon’s path to Buddhist enlightenment, to Changez’s move to Britain. It is wonderful to see that this show avoids simply presenting stereotypes and a singular experience and in fact through the meta-theatre of putting on a show in Act Two, brings an important discussion about how different identities are portrayed on the stage with integrity.

The company. Photo by Steve Tanner

Every performance in this show seemed to blend together perfectly to make you forget that you were watching theatre, and instead that you were simply observing life as it unfolded in front of you. Ankur Bahl plays Haroon, Karim’s father who has discovered Buddhism and also discovered love in Eva, a woman who is not his wife. Bahl at first brings perfectly timed comedy but later in the show this is matched with moments of tenderness and heartbreak with such subtly and in one particular exchange with his wife Margaret, a moment where even words aren’t needed. Eva is played by Lucy Thackeray, who again reflects the complexity of life through the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to dislike her even though her actions led to the breakdown of a marriage. Her portrayal of warmth towards Karim was heart-warming. Karim’s mother Margaret was played by Bettrys Jones, who also played Eleanor, Karim’s love, in Act Two. As both characters, Bettrys’ portrayal was quietly heartbreaking and showed her diversity as an actress though there were definitely parallels between the two women. A stand out performance for me was that of Rina Fatania, who played both Auntie Jeeta and Marlene. Every time she graced the stage, the audience were lit up with her comedy and light relief. She constrasted Uncle Anwar’s more stern character performed by the wonderful Simon Rivers brilliantly. I felt such empathy for both Natasha Jayetileke’s Jamila and Raj Bajaj’s Changez; one hoping for a true love match and the life they’d always been promised and the other longing for a life away from the confines of what was expected of her. We saw another type of heartbreak through Tommy Belshaw’s Charlie, a boy who grew up longing for stardom and adventure and instead found drink, drugs and depression. Ewan Wardrop plays director Matthew Pyke who had some fabulous audience interaction and brought elements of both hero and villain fabulously.

In live theatre, anything can happen. At our performance, lead actor Dee Ahluwalia was sadly injured and unable to perform. I have heard wonderful things about his performance in this role and wish him a speedy recovery! However, because of this we were treated to the most outstanding performance by off-stage cover Deven Modha. Deven covers several characters in the show and when he was introduced pre-show by Ankur Bahl, the atmosphere was immediately electric. It was clear that both cast and audience were on side and wanting to support him, and my oh my did he deliver! Modha was not only word perfect, but brought such innocence and rawness to the character of Karim. His voice was calming and his manner friendly and approachable. We laughed with him, cried with him and angered for him when things when wrong in Karim’s life. Swings are truly the beating heart of theatre and Modha’s performance is something I will never forget. Bravo, sir!

Having never read The Buddha of Suburbia, I went into this show totally blind and was utterly blown away by its portrayal of how truly magical and awful life can be all at the same time. The RSC have once again blown me away and I would recommend anyone that can catches this show during its run. 


The Buddha of Suburbia runs at The Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 1st June and tickets are available from

I would recommend this show for ages 16+ due to its explicit nature. I may never look at a banana the same way again!

Photo by Steve Tanner

Post a Comment


Theme by STS