I approached The Infidel, a musical seeking to tackle the centuries old Jewish-Muslim tension through song, with caution. The premise is a brave one: Kev Orkian as Mahmud, a modern everyday Muslim, finds out that he was born Solly Shimshillewitz, which throws him into a significant identity crisis. As Lenny, his Jewish neighbour and soon-to-be best mate puts it, he may as well have been called “Jewy-Jewy Jew Jew”.
The play deals with the potential for being misunderstood as bigoted in the first song when the Chinese takeaway’s delivery drivers arrive in conical hats and are unable to pronounce their Rs and Ls. Mahmud exclaims, “Now that’s racist!” reflecting Baddiel’s awareness of the risky territory he has taken his play. And that’s the problem with the whole thing. Like a teenage boy making a show of his first cigarette in front of his mates before hiding it behind his back as his mum turns the corner, it’s too conscious of avoiding offence whilst trying its utmost to be risqué.
Songs like “Put a fatwa on it” are paraded as an example of the bravery of the writers but as Arshad the “beardy-weirdy” fundamentalist, played by Alexander Andreou, stomps around the stage you can’t help but cringe. Other songs were lyrically more impressive and brilliantly sung, though crude rhyming felt a bit jarring occasionally.
Despite all this, I cannot deny I laughed, a lot. Kev Orkian is brilliant and his wife, Mina Anwar, and his son, Gary Wood, paint a believable picture of a typical Muslim home. Where the political satire missed the mark, the little touches and caricatures of Jewish and Muslim life in Britain produced at least a smirk from the majority of the audience. The beaded chair cover that Mahmud “can’t drive without” and Lenny moving his car upon finding out Mahmud’s a Jew after flatly refusing prior to the revelation that they had a shared heritage, welcoming him to the “worldwide conspiracy” were delivered just right. The subtler moments allowed the comedy to breathe but when the jokes were coming thick and fast, the humour was suffocated. So much of the wit was lost in a sea of average jokes but there were enough funny moments and, for that reason, I’d still recommend going.
It might not have the satirical sharpness it so desperately wants but I left feeling great, even a bit emotional at the terribly corny, happily-ever-after ending. For this reason, I want to give it both a 2 and 4. So let’s settle for a 3. 3/5
Review written by Harry Davies.
The Infidel is currently showing at the theatre Royal Stratford East until Sunday 2nd November. For more information on the production, visit here…