By Daniel Nelson


The Infidel - The Musical

The Infidel - The Musical

Image by Theatre Royal, Stratford

The play’s plot is simple: a middle-aged British Muslim family man, discovers he was born a Jew. Writer David Baddiel has added a slight complication: Mahmoud’s family is about to be inspected by the stepfather of his son’s bride-to-be, and the prospective father-in-law is a hardline, publicity-loving fundamentalist. Mahmoud, a sort of Everyman who happens to be Muslim, has promised to behave himself – no beer, no bad jokes, no bawdyism. But will he deliver and refrain from bursting into one of Erran Baron Cohen’s best songs, “I’m a Jew”?

Deep it is not, except for a couple of Koranic point-scoring near the end. Everything is fair game for the endless stream of jokes and songs: burqas, circumcision, barmitzvahs, taxi and minicab drivers, gayness.  Much of the show is about corny stereotypes, but there are a couple of zingers and a couple of strong songs. It rips along at tremendous pace and the humour is infectious: it’s an entertaining  romp.

As it sets about slaying sacred Jewish and Muslim cows, the Jews probably come off slightly better. Not surprising, really, because they have both humour and atheism. Even in the programme notes the piece on Jewish Comedy by Ivor Baddiel is funnier than that on Muslim Comedy by Imran Yusuf. Baddiel has jokes (asked to solve the problem of why a dropped piece of buttered bread always landed buttered side down, the Wise Men of Chelm deliberated for some time and then proclaimed that the solution was to butter it on the other side), whereas Yusuf has to disarm us of murderous IS images and argue that “Telling the truth us comedy’s greatest strength and … humour and honesty went hand in hand for the Prophet. Perhaps if we knew a little more about the rich history of Islam we’d see the heart and humility behind the face of many Muslims.”

The play got a great reception on the night I saw it: a standing ovation – both for its sheer fun and entertainment value, and perhaps also for the relief of knowing that it’s still possible to mock religion and its adherents – it’s only a few weeks since a serious exhibition in London about racism was cancelled because of noisy protests outside the venue. As David Baddiel says: “If you can make people laugh and sing, then it’s quite hard for them to keep fighting. At least for one night.” (One of the few targets it didn’t bother with was the absurdity of insisting that children should automatically follow the religion of their parents.)

But the warm reception is expected, given that the low-budget film version of The Infidel, released in 2010, was sold in more than 40 countries and has been shown at synagogues, mosques and interfaith gatherings around the world.

It’s now being re-made in Bollywood, with a Hindu discovering he was born a Muslim.


·         The Infidel – The Musical is at Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, E15, until 15 November. Info: 8534 0310/

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