'Romeo and Juliet of the East' arrive in Hornchurch
PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 May 2016
It's a familiar tale - two star-crossed lovers are thwarted in their pursuit of happiness by their feuding families.
But this story predates the famous William Shakespeare play by several centuries, and its characters are rumoured to have inspired the Bard.
When musical Laila arrives at the Queen’s Theatre, in Billet Lane, Hornchurch later this month, audiences will be exposed to the “greatest eastern love story ever told”, says actress Mona Goodwin.
Mona, who plays main character Laila, said the theme of forbidden love is very relevant to a modern audience.
She said: “The story is very relatable, the tale is from the seventh century and has been passed down through the centuries.
“The interesting thing is that there are so many different versions of the story, but none quite like ours.
“Our director is very feminist and he’s subverted the story so we see it from Laila’s perspective, which is very interesting.”
The play begins in Bradford where modern-day Laila is running away from her father, who is insisting she marries a man she doesn’t love.
Taking refuge from the storm raging outside, she enters a bookstore, where she discovers the story of Laila, a princess in seventh-century Persia who has been trapped within the confines of her families palace.
When she meets Qays, a poor merchant boy, a fairytale love affair begins against the backdrop of forbidding fathers.
The musical, which comes to the theatre in May, is a show that everyone will enjoy, said Mona.
She said: “You don’t have to enjoy musicals to enjoy this show, we’ve had an amazing reaction so far. It’s breathtaking.
“We have a live kabali band on stage and the music is incredible, it’s what initially drew me to the role.
“It’s a real fusion and very unusual and I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to see a new piece of writing, outside central London.”
The original tale is told at the beginning of the play through shadow puppets, which Mona says is an example of the plays determination to bring an old tale into a contemporary setting.
She said: “The tale isn’t a straightforward Bollywood comedy.
“It’s a celebration of multiculturalism and that’s reflected in the audiences who come to see our shows.”
The show is produced by theatre company Rifco, which aims to “create a voice for British Asian artists.”
Artistic director Pravesh Kumar said he wanted to bring “Romeo and Juliet of the east” to the west.
He said: “Laila Majnu is one of the oldest love stories but has rarely been told in the west.
“The story has travelled across borders and generations through music and verse and is a natural musical.
“I wanted to share this beautiful story and look at the timeless themes of love and honour in today’s multicultural Britain.”
Grappling with banned boyfriends and feuding families, Mona says the show delivers an important message about the autonomy of women in society.
Mona said: “The play has been brought into modern society as it begins and ends with a modern women living the same life now.
“Like any piece of art, it delivers a message.
“Laila is a very strong, powerful woman, who wants to be able to make her own decisions and sadly the issues she faces are still prevalent.
“Honour killings are still a problem in this country, and people don’t know about it.
“The show is very fun and energetic and I would be wrong to say it goes near solving the problem, but I think it does provoke thought.”
The musical is running from May 17 to 21 and tickets can be purchased from queens-theatre.co.uk or by phoning 01708 443333.