“Solly Shimshillewitz? Why didn’t they just call you “Jewie-jew-jew-jew-jew” and be done with it?”
Not having seen the film of The Infidel before catching the musical adaptation at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, I quickly rectified that with a cheeky online rental on my new iPhone 6+ (plug!). Written by David Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi, it was a moderate success in 2010 although watching it now, I was struck by how comparatively muted the humour was and impressed that Baddiel and co saw musical theatre as the best way to translate the story for the stage as it isn’t immediately obvious.
Omid Djalili takes on the role of Mahmud, the British Muslim whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is in fact adopted and is Jewish by birth to boot, and impresses in the everyman part of the role, emphasising the story’s point about how we all wear our beliefs differently but no less strongly. He’s a little more restrained than I was expecting though and Archie Panjabi, good as she is, feels miscast as his wife, their relationship improbably imbalanced and so lacking the deep-seated connection that ought to be holding them together even during the most strained times.
Richard Schiff is excellent as the dour Lenny, the Jewish cabbie who becomes Mahmud’s spirit guide in all things Jewish – the bar mitzvah scene is well done here with Tracy-Ann Oberman and Joanna Brookes particularly fearsome companions for the trip. And I liked the New Romantic side of things (completely excised for the musical) which plays out in its own clever way. Amit Shah and Soraya Radford pair up nicely as Mahmud’s son and his fiancée whose impending marriage brings more chaos into the family life but their characters do get lost a little bit here, not quite funny or moving enough to really make an impact.
It’s an enjoyable watch but not essential – the likes of Paul Kaye, Matt Lucas and Miranda Hart make brief cameos and Mina Anwar is tucked away in the cast as well, the only person to appear in both film and musical, but for me it’s the kind of film you’d leave on the TV because it was on rather than going out of your way to find it. You’re far better off going to the musical in my opinion as its sharper, funnier and considerably more warm-hearted and so more likely to deliver the goods.