Laila — The Musical retells the greatest love story from the East
London - It is the oriental equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. Laila — The Musical, a modern musical by the creators of the award-winning Britain’s Got Bhangra, retells the greatest love story from the East.
Just like Romeo and Juliet, Laila and her Majnun represent star-crossed lovers. Laila and Qays belong to different tribes and her father forbids any contact. Qays becomes madly obsessed with her. He is called Majnun, Arabic for “madman”, in this case madly in love.
In the play, modern day Laila runs away from her family because she is in love with a man but her father wants her to marry someone else. She takes shelter from a storm in an old bookshop in Bradford, where she comes across a book with her name on it. She opens the book, starts to read the story and embarks on her own journey. The location moves from Bradford to ancient Arabia.
“Descending from Ancient Arabia, Laila and Majnun is 800 years older than Romeo and Juliet,” playwright Pravesh Kumar said. “It is the same story of star-crossed lovers from two different families. Romeo and Juliet could have been inspired by this story.
“This story is huge in the East, which includes India, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. I wanted to celebrate an Eastern love story. The story is relevant today as there are still many star-crossed lovers with the same saga.”
In addition to acclaiming true love, the musical celebrates Eastern music with a Western twist.
“Our audience is mixed between Westerners and Asians and is usually young,” Kumar said. “We wanted to have an old story in a contemporary play to show our Laila of British Pakistani origin that finds a book with her name on it and is consumed by the story.
“The story has been passed down through music, song and lyrics. We have taken Sufi music and poems to make the heart of the play but we used a contemporary style on it.”
He stressed the research process behind the play, including reading, watching and listening to other adaptations of the tale while learning about Sufism.
“We spent more than three years on research. Writing the music of this scale and the script took a very long time. We spent long hours checking the story and what already existed and what is relevant. We met a lot of people and heard the old poems being recited and travelled to India to meet Sufi poets. It is an Eastern love story but has a Western musical sense to it,” Kumar added.
Mona Goodwin, who plays Laila, also spoke about the time-consuming task of researching the story and appropriating one of the two lead characters.
“Research is an endless task because of the amount of versions that is adapted around the world,” she said. “It is hard to get to the bottom of the story. There is not a definitive version of Laila and Majnun.” The story is believed to have originated in Arabia in the 5th century.
Goodwin pointed out that the musical is different from ancient versions as it is seen from Laila’s perspective.
“What is unfortunate about the older versions is that they show Laila in a negative light. She is a temptress that drives men mad,” she said. “What is wonderful about (the musical) is that Pravesh has flipped all this on its head by showing the story through Laila’s eyes. It’s about her troubles which makes this play unique from the original tale.”
The actress said the music mix between East and West helped her get into the role of Laila and portray the character’s emotions.
“It is a tale about love so it was easy to get into the character of Laila because I was in love when I was 18,” Goodwin said. “Most of my research was through song. The music is like another character in the tale. The band is on stage with us which helped me get to the high emotional points of the character.
“Laila is an emotional character. She goes through the worst. She is married off to a man much older than her and she is physically, emotionally and mentally oppressed by everyone. It is an emotionally draining role but the music helps me deal with that.”
A lot of what Laila wants to say is relayed through songs.
“I had to broaden my thinking to a whole different style of music. It is a fantastic opportunity for me to play a strong, confident and courageous princess. Laila is a beautiful princess who fights for what she believes in,” Goodwin said.