Steeped in nostalgia, writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti and Rifco Theatre Company have tackled a lot of tough issues in Dishoom; a play named after the sound of a punch or a bullet from 1970s Bollywood movies. From exploring a family’s shame around disability to the rise of the National Front, Dishoom races through a series of complex ideas and issues at great speed but this high energy production misses the opportunity to explore them with the care that they deserve.

Steeped in nostalgia, writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti and Rifco Theatre Company have tackled tough issues in Dishoom!; a play named after the sound of a punch or a bullet from 1970s Bollywood movies. From exploring a family’s shame around disability to the rise of the National Front, the play races through a series of complex ideas and issues at great speed but this high energy production misses the opportunity to explore them with the care that they deserve.

The story is focused around Simon (Bilal Khan), a disabled teenager growing up in a British Asian household in 1978. Simon’s horizons and aspirations are kept confined by his overbearing grandmother Bibi. Played brilliantly by Seema Bowri, Bibi strives to act according to traditions, protecting him from the world outside. Cousin Baljit (Gurkiran Kaur) arrives like a hurricane for the summer to stay and help Simon, bringing a copy of Sholay; a well-renowned masterpiece of Bollywood cinema. While Bibi is determined to find Simon a wife, Baljit is determined to show Simon that he should chase his dreams and his disability shouldn’t hold him back.

There are some touches that are particularly effective, such as the use of Punjabi. It’s a great experience to be a member of the audience who isn’t able to be in on the jokes, as it allows your mind to wander and fill in the blanks.

Newcomer Bilal Khan has quite the challenge on his hands as he rarely leaves the stage. His portrayal of Simon’s discovery of the film and subsequently himself is no mean feat for a first theatre job. However, his performance could do with greater subtlety in places as although Simon is understandably angered by his situation, the climax of his frustration later on in the show is eclipsed by all of the shouting and ranting he has done before.

However, the main struggle with the play is the lack of fluidity between the more naturalistic moments and the dream sequences that recreate the film Sholay. These feel disjointed sometimes and distract from the main plot which could really have held its own without them.

Where the play also misses the mark is in its dealings with the National Front. The threat of the National Front doesn’t feel real enough, and it’s very hard to believe that Keith (James Mace), a boy who has happily mixed with friends from different backgrounds for so long would so suddenly become a militant racist. Mace’s portrayal isn’t frightening enough, in fact, it verges on being comical at times, making his character’s journey unbelievable. Perhaps a better solution would have been to have the National Front as an ominous offstage presence, rather than including a character that feels rushed and clumsy as an addition to the main plot.

It would have been great to see more subtle performances, and the production would benefit from the use of levels being used better throughout the production. At some points, there is a lot of shouting on stage and it would be nice to have a few moments for quieter reflection to allow the significance of the play’s themes to hit home. With many characters on stage, all going on very different journeys, Dishoom! seems to take on too much in too short a space of time. It feels as if the supporting characters family situations could almost become plays of their own, and this distracts from the core messages of the production.

There are lessons to be learned from Dishoom!, it’s an ambitious play and a story that needs to be told but with a little less overcrowding to let it breathe. Will it make you want to watch ‘Sholay’  and understand the draw of this Bollywood masterpiece? Probably. But it will also make you come away wanting to see more untold stories like Simon’s, from underrepresented voices.

★★☆☆☆

Dishoom! is on tour around the UK. For ticket information, please finish Rifco Theatre Company’s website.