A stage eye view on Boo’s gripping Indian tale

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Hiran Abeysekera, left, and Shane Zaza as toiler Abdul in Behind the Beautiful Forevers at the National Theatre, London

BEYOND the Beautiful Forevers is a play directed by Rufus Norris and based on a non-fiction book by Katherine Boo, who went to Annawadi in Mumbai to report on the poverty in a small community. The play centres around many families, and how their lives intersect when faced with immense religious prejudice corruption as well as petty problems that every society experiences. Abdul Husain – sensitively portrayed by Shane Zaza – is a rubbish sorter at the top of his trade and providing for a wealthy family who also happens to be one of the only Muslim families in the neighbourhood. His mother, Zehrunisa (Meera Syal), is a foul mouthed and proud woman who constantly picks fights and when this catches up to her, a spiral of deceit and corruption takes its toll on the whole community.

The Olivier at the National Theatre is known to be a grand space, and the set conveyed the vastness of the slums in Annawadi perfectly. From the rubbish falling from the ceiling downstage, to the billboards advertising luxuries in the background, the divide between classes was painfully obvious to the audience. The music was particularly poignant as the blaring, upbeat songs contrasted with the downbeat feeling of the community and represented what people relate with Mumbai rather than the reality; something that Boo commented on herself. The revolving stage cleverly separated the domestic setting with the corporate showing the many different types of corruption present and that there are two sides to every story.

This production highlights the extreme conflict which occurs when everyone is just trying to get by. It was cleverly written and wonderfully acted by the first entire British Asian cast at the National. Other stand-out performances include Thusitha Jayasundera as the conniving Fatima, and Anjana Vasan as Manju, an educated girl who is the voice of morality along with Abdul.

For a gripping and sobering story, I would recommend watching Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which will be broadcast as part of the NT Live cinema series in the Art’s Centre in March, and also reading Katherine Boo’s original book.