There’s no doubt that the moment when Dewsbury schoolboy Musharaf Ashgar seemed to overcome his stammer on Educating Yorkshire was one of TV moments of this century.
This warm and funny dramatisation by Rifco Theatre tells that heart-warming story, but also tries to get behind the truth of what actually happened. Musharaf – aka Mushy - worked with inspirational teacher Mr Burton who used his personable pupil’s love of rap music to seemingly overcome what had been a debilitating stammer.
The really clever twist in this slightly overlong play is that as well as the dialogue Mushy uses the music that helped him through occasional original raps composed by Niraj Chag with lyrics by Luton based rapper Raxstar. The banging I Made It that opens Act 2 is a fabulous tune as Mushy’s head is turned by the fleeting fame that is the lot of any reality TV star.
This is a show that really doesn’t need an interval, and Rifco’s Artistic Director Pravesh Kumar’s book could be trimmed to keep the energy up, which dipped in the second act as the older Mushy wrestles with the fame game.
The three strong cast make the most of Eleanor Bull’s simple but smart school-based set, especially Varun Raj as Mushy who captures the pain of having a stammer, especially when your whole class is mocking you, but never overplays it. It is a masterclass in control from a young actor, and he can rap really well too.
Oliver Longstaff’s Mr Burton, who also gets carried away by fame, manages to stay this side of inspirational rather than patronising, and he gamely fills in on the minor roles. Medhavi Patel is splendidly bolshie as Mushy’s agoraphobic, but fiercely protective, Ammi who brings her youngest son back to his roots and ultimately himself.
With a bit of pruning this show putting the cost of reality TV under the microscope has the potential to be a modern classic, but is still a moving account of Mushy’s bravery in putting himself into the TV spotlight that remains an inspiration to anyone who stammers.
Mushy: Lyrically Speaking is at Leeds playhouse until Saturday 12th October and touring www.rifcotheatre.com/shows
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 8th October 2019
North West End UK Rating: ★★★