Over the past nine months, the NT Live screenings have become quite a staple in my calendar – I’m enjoying the opportunity to experience a more diverse set of productions than I’d usually make it to London to see. Behind the Beautiful Forevers definitely falls into that category and while it wasn’t my favourite play, experiencing the good and the bad is all part of theatre-going – I particularly enjoy figuring out what I’ve not liked about a production. I enjoy theatre even if I don’t enjoy the production if you see what I mean?
Anyway, this is all a big disclaimer – this review isn’t going to be greatly positive (hopefully it will be at least constructively negative!), but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give yourself the opportunity to view the production and make up your own mind!
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Written by David Hare (who also penned one of last year’s NT Live offerings – Skylight) and based on the non-fiction book by Katherine Boo; ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ centres on a slum community sandwiched between the luxury hotels near Mumbai airport. Amid the day to day toil of scavenging recycling to secure their survival, we see a community contending universal issues (providing for one’s family, community status & neighbourly jealousy) as well as a great deal of corruption.
The plot depicts a varying group of strong women whose personality traits cast each into a very different light; their interacting plot lines (although based on reality) were near enough plucked from an episode of Eastenders. They were practically caricatures, a trait that wasn’t reserved for the women – there was no depth. I felt nothing throughout, I didn’t care about their ever increasingly dismal fate.
I found the play to be oddly paced. There was no suspense, it simply acted as an observation platform. Obviously, things did happen but my complete lack of investment in any of the characters meant that I didn’t care about their fates. Long stretches of dialogue that did very little to forward the plot were followed by long-awaited minutes of action flying by in an insignificant blur leaving me questioning whether anything had actually happened at all.
Corruption within the institution was depicted multiple times, but that was it, it didn’t go any further. Perhaps that was intentional, again making us simply observe the life of the characters, but I think that does the audience a disservice – we already know it’s corrupt. I wanted more. Show me the corruption through the eyes of the characters, what did they think of it? do they realise it exists? etc. One of the central slum women was essentially feeding the corruption – we were never told what she really thought of what she was doing – did she resent that it was her means of survival?
I get it. Corruption is bad, so is poverty … particularly against the backdrop of the rich. As hard as it felt like the production was trying, I’m not sure that it opened my eyes to anything. I found its simply observational nature incredibly frustrating.
This Production of Behind the Beautiful Forevers
The fully British-Asian cast of 25 contains prolific actors such as Meera Syal and Vincent Ebrahim (both of ‘The Kumars’ fame). The strong cast did well with what was a rather dull and lacking piece, but at times it was tricky to mentally differentiate the aforementioned well-known actors from their TV counterparts!
The set was simple, most of the action took place on a static set outside of the characters shanty dwellings. But it did revolve and include a bridge to allow for other locations. I particularly like the aeroplane projections, end of act one monsoon and litter dropping from the sky!
My Verdict on Behind the Beautiful Forevers
The lack of depth really hindered the production for me. While this incarnation was of a high quality, I found the piece itself to be a relatively tedious experience. I give ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ a rating of 2/5.