Theatre Review: Hanif Kureishi’s play “The Black Album” at Cottesloe Theatre, London

Hanif Kureishi has turned his own vibrant 1995 novel into a play. The result is a busy, hectic affair that raises all kinds of issues about religious and political faith, fatwas and censorship and the purpose of art. But, as so often with adaptations, you get the bones without the thickness of texture that was part of the original’s charm.

The Black Album, for all its allusions to Prince, is actually a very literary book: there’s more than a hint of Balzac’s Lost Illusions in its story of Shahid, a young Sevenoaks Asian who, in 1989, is exposed to the temptations of London. The play follows the novel in showing Shahid torn between conflicting values.

As a student he is eagerly adopted by a fundamentalist Muslim brotherhood led by the charismatic Riaz. But he also embarks on a passionate affair with a lecturer, Deedee Osgood, who in her devotion to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll embodies the seductions of liberalism.

Matters come to a head with the campaign against The Satanic Verses where Shahid is forced into deciding where his allegiance lies. The play throws up a whole heap of ideas: Muslim orthodoxy confronts Marxist-Leninist ideology and there is even a debate about postmodernist teaching versus canonical criticism.

The Black Album, a co-production between the National Theatre and Tara Arts
Cottesloe, London SE1 9PX, until 7 October 2009
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