Muslim-Jewish comedy ‘The Infidel’ wins London praise

Nabila Pathan
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The hit stage adaptation of the 2010 cult comedy film The Infidel, comes to the end of its successful run this weekend at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Entertaining audiences with catchy tunes and audacious lyrics, The Infidel's all singing and all dancing star cast have been performing weekly since the launch of the musical in October this year, following a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped raise more than $86,000.

Applauded for tackling both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, at a time when religious intolerance seems to be a growing feature around the world, the British comedian and writer of The Infidel, David Baddiel, who has also been responsible for the musical makeover, explains "the reason religion and musicals go together is perhaps that we, as a culture find religion quite hard to talk about. But not necessarily to sing about."


Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Baddiel goes on to say: "Anything we find hard to talk about tends to find itself transposed into discourses beyond straightforward speech – jokes, poetry, music. So that might be why we have landed here, with The Infidel.

It is possibly a way of talking about two religions – polarized and apparently, at times, now, not talking to each other – through comedy and music."

Following in the footsteps of "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Book of Mormon" as well as "The Fiddler on The Roof," religion provides the setting for The Infidel musical. A story about identity crisis, the plot follows the character of a British Pakistani Muslim cab driver, Mahmud Nasir, whose discovery of being an adopted Jew, in what Baddiel describes as "the opposing camp" for Mahmud, launches a "vortex of doubt" and "swirls him inescapably to song."

Whilst Mahmud's encounters with religious zealots like his son's father-in law to be as well as his attempts to become a convincing Jew in anticipation of meeting his long lost father provide surreal comedic moments, it all feels less far-fetched when delivered through song and dance.

Peppered with memorable choruses like “fatty, fatty, fatty, fatty fatwa" or "You're a Jew," and not least for its ensemble of Burka clad dancers, the musical creates a unforgettable culture clash with intolerance being its target.

Reviewers praised the cast of nine actors as "hard-working multi-taskers," many of whom take on more than one role and perform the task of stage transitions seamlessly.

Kev Orkian, who plays the protagonist Mahmud, has been singled out particularly for providing a "warm and layered central performance" according to a review in the Guardian. Moreover, the collaboration with Erran Baron Cohen, the older brother of Sasha Baron Cohen, who is responsible for composing the catchy tunes, has also been a source of intrigue.

Whilst the history and experience of Muslim and Jewish comedy in the West is different, the fusion of the two in this musical is complimentary. The synchronised laughter of both Jewish and Muslim audience members is testimony of this despite both communities being the subject of risqué song choices.

Beyond the shock tactics, the overriding message of the story is that most groups have more in common than differences.

The original film was released both in the UK and to international audiences in 2010. The low-budget independent British movie became a surprise hit in Europe and sold to more than 40 countries. It claimed an unexpected rerun in the inter-faith community, as it was screened in synagogues, mosques and interfaith festivals and gatherings around the world.

Whilst the curtains may be drawing to a close this Saturday, The Infidel lives on.

Apart from the success of the film being reborn into song, there is currently a Bollywood version being made of the film, but this time depicting a traditional Hindu man discovering that he was actually born a Muslim. The enduring legacy of the film highlights a growing appetite for cultural productions that focus on polarised communities.

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