On Tuesday (8 October 2019) I was fortunate enough to be invited to go to view the exclusive premiere of Mushy Lyrically Speaking at the newly refurbished Leeds Playhouse. I was not disappointed.
I was already a fan of the main character based on the real life student Musharaf ‘Mushy’ Asghar who starred in the National Television Award winning Channel 4 series Educating Yorkshire.
The story of ‘Mushy’ is the basis for this rap and lyrical musical which conveys Mushy’s story from being a stammering, tongue tied GCSE student who turns into a charming and confident young Yorkshire man. Rifco Theatre Company who have a rich and successful history of cultural story telling (The Deranged Marriage, Laila The Musical) have carefully depicted what it means to have dual identities for an adolescent, British Pakistani male in the millennium who is struggling to find his voice.
We see how Mushy is wrapped up in cotton wool at home by his mother and struggles to communicate in a formal setting like school. His close relationship with his stimulating English teacher, Mr Burton is nothing short of heart-warming. Quite fittingly, the real life Mushy is now a motivational speaker after having such inspiring teachers like Mr Burton at school.
Through music, Mushy begins to express himself, discover his voice and a new found charisma and confidence emerge. The show is a real emotional journey of Mushy’s life over the past seven years or so – highlighting all the highs and lows that he has had to overcome. By the end of the show his newfound confidence leads him to make some bold career choices against his Mother’s wishes, “…you have never taken the easy road…” says Ammi.
The highlight of the show for me was the standout performance from Medhavi Patel as ‘Ammi’ (Mushy’s overbearing Mother) who did an excellent job of conveying her struggles as a single, Pakistani mother in close knit Dewsbury who has lived with the shame of her husband leaving her years earlier. Her quick wit, sarcasm, temperamental outbursts and Punjabi anecdotes had members of the audience roaring in laughter.
She is a very relatable character for many South Leeds Life readers and her grasping relationship with her son Mushy is one that is very common amongst communities in South Leeds. It is great that Dewsbury has been shown in a positive light and Mushy’s strong performance reinforces that with determination and commitment anything is possible regardless of where you come from (only down the road in this case) or your background circumstances.
Towards the end of the play, ‘Ammi’ has a monologue that is both heartbreaking and true for so many south Asian women. Her passion, intonation and heartfelt thoughts will resonate with multiple generations of Asian women and the struggles and stigmas that they still face in society today.
A Rifco Theatre production would not be complete without a traditional bhangra ‘get out of your seat’ dance set and the audience clapped and cheered to the feel good bhangra closing finale.
This was only the second show in the new building. Leeds Playhouse has an open weekend this week from Friday through to Sunday (11-13 October) where members of the public are invited to come and see the newly refurbished building and see what is going on. For further information please visit: www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/openweekend
Mushy Lyrically Speaking runs at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 12 October. The play is suitable for children aged 8+. Tickets cost £14-26 phone the box office on (0113) 213 7700 or visit: leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/mushy-lyrically-speaking. Follow the real life Mushy on Twitter at @MusharafAsghar