Nicholas Prasad tells us about getting in touch with his feminine side for his role in Miss Meena and the Masala Queens

Despite already enjoying a varied and successful acting career, Nicholas Prasad admits his new role has come as something of a challenge. The actor is currently touring the country in Miss Meena and the Masala Queens, a play, which is about Asian drag queens, writes Nicky Sweetland.

“It’s exploring the world of a Birmingham drag club, which is in decline.” Nicholas tells me when I meet him before a show at Greenwich Theatre.

“The owner, Miss Meena, has hit the booze and it’s losing business”

Raj Ghatak and Nicholas Prasad in Miss Meena and the Masala Queens

The play is from the producers of the hit shows Laila – The Musical, The Deranged Marriage & Happy Birthday Sunita and features some classic songs from Bollywood as well as traditional Indian melodies, lip synced with plenty of glitter and glamour.

Nicholas plays a young man from a broken home who is struggling to find his place in the world until he stumbles upon Miss Meena’s club.

“He’s permanently in limbo, he’s having an identity crisis. He’s sort of stuck in the middle, he’s lost and he doesn’t know how to anchor himself and how to identify himself.”

It’s a story many in the Asian LGBT community can identify with, while homophobia and tolerance are still rife within the conservative culture.

“We dip into the world of the LGBT community, the world of drag queens and also the stigma attached to it.” Nicholas tells me, “We’ve seen the commercial side more recently in Western Society with RuPaul’s Drag Race, but with this we are also seeing the Asian community in Britain and the two worlds colliding.”

Nicholas’ character, Shaan, finds sanctuary within the venue and in turn rejuvenates both the club’s fortunes and those of its owner.

“The character follows a journey from innocence to experience”

It’s not just the important message of tolerance and acceptance behind the show that has been tricky for Nicholas to get to grips with however. The play marks his first ever drag appearance and he’s had to learn very quickly about the art form.

From makeup to wigs, walking in heels and the decision to tuck or not tuck (the answer was not tuck for those of you who are interested!), it has been a baptism of fire for the young performer.

“It’s all new to me. It’s entirely my first foray into it and it’s not something you can just dip into. It’s a whole world and it’s a craft.” Nicholas explained, “I’ve basically had to undo 28 years of being a bloke.”

The cast was given lessons in how to apply their makeup by artists in Carnaby Street to ensure they got an authentic look. It’s been an enlightening experience for Nicholas who says, “These are the types of challenges and opportunities that you can relish.”

The new play has been created in consultation with the LGBT community and seeks to promote and uncover the untold stories of men who choose a female persona by night.

“It’s about an identity; you take on this personality. If someone is lost and they don’t know what to do, they can take on a semi pseudonym and are able to express themselves and be who they are.”

Miss Meena and the Masala Queens is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 3 June and then NST Campus Southampton from 6-10 June before it completes its tour at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 13-17 June. 

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Nicky’s Showbiz Diary: The fabulous freedom of freelance

It’s been another fun-filled week, but I have to say the heat and humidity in London has played a part in how I have scheduled it.

The beauty of being freelance is that I don’t have to be chained to a desk in an office for most of the week. It takes discipline, but for me, it’s the best way to work.

I’m a bit of a free spirit and if I’m in the right mood, I can write reams and reams of entertaining and eloquent copy. If my brain is having one of its flighty days however (which is usually when I’m overtired or stressed) writing even the most simple sentence feels like I’m giving birth.

This means I have to allow myself breaks and as a lover of the outdoors, I often move my ‘office’ around, depending on how I feel.

After a near fainting on the train into central London on one of the hottest days this week (I had to do the whole head between my legs thing and it was very embarrassing), I decided to take my office to Greenwich Park. I had some appointments in Greenwich later in the day and so spent five hours mooching around in the sun in between writing.

It’s a great bit of London and offers the city, some greenery and the waterside, which, as someone who has lived by the sea for many years, always makes me feel calm.

Anyway, I watched a couple of show’s this week. The first was Woyzeck at the Old Vic Theatre, starring Star Wars’ John Boyega. A strange play, that was, like lots of the stuff at the Old Vic, a bit too worthy. I had hoped after interviewing writer Jack Thorne that it would be a bit more insightful to the plight of vulnerable working class people who join the forces, but it was very much written from a middle class perspective.

I also watched a new play called Miss Meena and the Masala Queens, a show about a drag club in Birmingham. This too was bitterly disappointing and had none of the glamour of the real world of drag.

I wasn’t disappointed by the third show I watched however, when I popped along to see Wicked for the 27th time, with standby Elphaba Alice Fearn on gloriously good form. Alice is being given the role fulltime from July and I think she has the potential to be the best ‘Green Girl’ the West End has ever seen.

With deadlines in Dorset and my sister visiting from Australia, I will have fewer theatrical exploits next week, but I am journeying down to the Exeter Northcott Theatre to see Death of a Salesman for the first time and I’ve got a couple of interviews on the cards.

I’m also back to rehearsals for Spamalot after a couple of weeks off and I’m looking forward to setting the first few scenes.

Review: “A long way from being a hit” ★★ Miss Meena and the Masala Queens, Greenwich Theatre

With the increasing recognition of the smash hit television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, the art of drag has become part of popular culture more than ever before. In a world of drudgery and disappointment, the art form offers an escape, not only for people who are part of the LGBT community, but for those who need some positives in a world filled with negativity.

For gay men from Asian families, drag offers a refuge and Harvey Virdi’s play attempts to expose the need for a change in perceptions and the importance of acceptance in all facets of society.

Miss Meena (Raj Ghatak) has hit hard times since the death of her partner and her drag club is going to the dogs. With dodgy businessmen and a conniving Queen trying to force her out, her only sanctuary comes in the form of wannabe drag diva Shaan (Nicholas Prasad).

Unfortunately, Pravesh Kumar’s production lacks any of the glamour needed to establish this as a credible drag world and with terrible wigs, bizarre musical interludes and some dreadful set changes, it feels like a tragically amateur endeavor.

The script is filled with clichés and any hope of examining the important story is lost after the first few lines, when you realise the subject is being trivialised rather than explored.

This could all be forgiven if we were at least treated to some fabulously camp lip-sync numbers, but apart from during the finale, there aren’t any of those either, just a couple of poorly executed Bollywood scenes.

The potential of this play is huge and the message it’s trying to convey is an important one, which makes this presentation all the more disappointing.

It could be saved by some rewrites and the addition of more music, but this show is a long way from being a hit.

Miss Meena and the Masala Queens is at Greenwich Theatre until 27 May

Nicky’s Showbiz Diary: It’s been Show busy!

This column is a little later than usual, purely down to my busyness, or showbusyness as I like to call it. Over the last week I have seen seven shows, conducted five interviews and also met my first deadline for the Greenwich Weekender.

I’ve also done two restaurant reviews and hobnobbed with the stars at the Chelsea Flower Show as well as recording my weekly segment for BBC Radio Kent.

My feet have barely touched the ground and with three deadlines in Dorset looming my writing head has become a little frazzled.

It’s been fantastic but with a house move also getting ever closer, I have begun to panic about getting everything done.

Luckily there’s always a helpful person around to advise you on how best to manage your workload. I’ve had at least eight people ask if I’ve thought about writing a list and I’ve had to stifle my sarcasm about the wonderfully in-depth counsel!

Anyway, the shows I’ve seen lately have been a mixed bag. I watched the tour of The Play That Goes Wrong (excellent), The Addams Family (sensational), Richard III (a bit slow), The Color Purple in concert (amazing), Samantha Barks Live, with special guest Kerry Ellis (great), Judy! (fantastic) and a show I’m not going to mention, because it was so bad, I had to leave at the interval for fear of a hysterical attack.

I watch a lot of amateur shows, so I’m used to things occasionally being rough around the edges, but this ‘professional’ production was so poor, I felt it best not to pass comment on it at all.

The Celebrity count has been very high this week too, because I went to Chelsea Flower Show on Press day.

Sadly, I was on my own so I couldn’t engage in the hilarious celebrity touching game and there were few famous faces I hadn’t seen before. I guess I’ve got so used to seeing celebs now, that it would take the likes of Madonna, Kylie or RuPaul to really get me excited.

Joan Collins looked amazing among the roses in the main Pavilion however and Kelly Brook seemed very friendly as she supped on bubbly. It was nice to see Peter Kay again wandering around in the sunshine and I was a bit in awe of Paralympic Gold Medalist Ellie Simmonds.

I always find it funny that if you walk with confidence, people assume you’re someone worth looking at and take a second glance to check whether you’re famous or not, so yes, I did pretend to be someone, with my head held high. It’s the simplest little games, which amuse me!

Next week, a work experience minion is joining me in the form of my teenage daughter, so my London trip will be filled with food and drink stops. I’m seeing Wicked again (well, 26 times just isn’t enough!) and Woyzeck at the Old Vic, starring John Boyega. I’m then off to see Miss Meena and the Masala Queens at Greenwich Theatre, which looks fabulous.

You can read all of reviews and interview on my website thesweetlondonlife.com and follow me on Twitter for all of the latest news @NickySweetland