Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 15:08 UK

Press reviews: The Black Album

A stage version of The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi's critically acclaimed second novel, has opened at the National Theatre on London's South Bank.

Jonathan Bonnici in The Black Album
Jonathan Bonnici plays a student who joins a Muslim brotherhood

Set in 1989, it tells of a young, British-born Pakistani man who finds himself torn between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Adapted by the author from his 1995 novel, the play shares its title with that of an unreleased but much-bootlegged Prince album from the period.

The production sees Kureishi return to the National's Cottesloe auditorium, where his 1999 play Sleep with Me was also staged.

Some critics, however, have been left unimpressed by his look at the rise of radical Islam.


It lives on the page but it dies on the stage. That, alas, is the story of Hanif Kureishi's second brilliant novel.

The National's co-production with Tara Arts has its heart in the right place but its judgemental faculties absolutely nowhere.

How can something so absolutely boring and tritely old-fashioned in presentational terms claim to be widening the NT's remit?

Jatinder Verma's stunningly prosaic, badly cast and very badly designed production all looks like a retread of a best forgotten fringe play of about 1979.


The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi's new dramatisation of his 1995 novel, has one ace up its sleeve: it's about a subject that matters - the rise of radical Islam in the UK.

Episodic in nature, the show can't disguise its origins as a novel. Would it work better on TV? Yes. Should it have come to the stage, and the National of all places? Absolutely.

The UK terror threat may just have gone from "severe" to "substantial", but that's no reason to be complacent. This is a long-overdue look at a very urgent issue.


Hanif Kureishi's story about an Asian student from Kent choosing between Western liberalism and Muslim fundamentalism has only grown more pertinent.

The novel is still worth reading, but Kureishi's stage adaptation is really pretty poor.

The sense of time and place that made the book compulsive has all but vanished here.

Only in a concluding set-piece, which links these events to the 7/7 bombings, does the evening take brief theatrical flight.


This 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 stage version does scant justice to the book's panoramic portrait of late-1980s London with its pubs, clubs and ecstasy-filled raves.

In a nutshell, one misses the heady exuberance of Kureishi's descriptive writing.


In belatedly adapting his superb 1995 novel for the stage, Hanif Kureishi has done neither himself nor his subject matter many favours.

What was promised as a trenchant exploration of the roots of Islamic fundamentalism in our post-7/7 world ends up as a listless trudge through a series of tired scenes.

Jatinder Verma's uninspired direction has the action shoehorned into a narrow set bounded by screens of video projections.

He's not helped by the fact that Kureishi has failed to translate the comic astringency of his prose, and to bring the supporting characters to anything like fully realised life.


This staging of Kureishi's novel, set in the year of the death threats against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, could so easily have been the cue for a fascinating investigation of the roots of radical Islam.

Instead what we got last night was a juvenile jaunt through a collection of implausible stereotypes spouting incoherent philosophy.

The dialogue is clunking, the scenes are rambling and the structure is haphazard.

It's like watching Goodness Gracious Me mutating into a tasteless Indian version of The League of Gentlemen.

The Black Album is in repertoire at the National Theatre until 7 October and will then tour the country.

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