Joyful, witty and charming. Three deserving words to describe the roller-coaster that is Walking with Jelly Babies (2020). Aaron Virdee, the shining star of this production, hilariously personifies the much-loved Uncle Madhu – an unconventional Desi uncle.
Walking with Jelly Babies is a much-awaited spin-off from the nationally renowned Kali Theatre’s production My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding (2014).
During a mini gossip session with the camera, the not-so-secret audience eavesdrop on the scandalous notion – Uncle Madhu has to walk. Oh, and that he fell in a cowpat.
Addressing the audience wearing an obviously mismatched bath towel, complete with a hat, reveals just how personal the story is – after all, he is the only star of the show.
But don’t worry, there are frequent fabulous outfit changes becoming more weird and wonderful as time moves on.
The only consistent item of his boundless wardrobe happens to be a loud red and blue turban.
Even though we’re immersed with what’s on-screen we are also invited to imagine a glamorous pair of glittery gold wellies, fleece lining and all – the unsuspecting culprit of Uncle Madhu’s tragic downfall.
But that’s not even all. Walking is bad enough, but spilling jelly babies? That’s almost enough to spoil your nephew’s wedding anniversary.
Walking with Jelly Babies is a spoiler, the whole plot is carefully and purposely, unveiled in the title.
What isn’t revealed is the comical nature of the performance? The accent, the costumes and the plotline each harmonising, resulting in a rare and dynamic soliloquy.
You have to determine what’s worse. Walking? Squelching home in cowpat? Or spoiling the carpets (and seats) of a friend’s car?
Watch Walking with Jelly Babies, starring Aaron Virdee, written by Sayan Kent and produced by the Kali Theatre, for that tantalising reveal.
DESIblitz speaks exclusively to Aaron Virdee about his career and personal life.
What was your inspiration for getting into theatre?
“Ever since I was a child, I have always enjoyed telling stories. It was something I did for fun. The first live production I watched was Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
“I was mesmerised at the performances and staging. I pursued drama as a GCSE at school and loved it and thought I could actually pursue this as a career!
“So that’s when I went on to further my education and eventually went to drama school.”
Cultivating a clear career path for himself from a young age, Virdee is a proud alumnus of Birmingham’s Theatre School and Redroofs Theatre School.
His dedication to the arts has not gone undetected, with parts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two (2011), Citizen Khan (2012) and Land Gold Women (2009) being prominent features on his filmography.
Virdee has worked with some famous companies: BBC, Talking Pictures and Birmingham Repertory Theatre just to name a few.
He has nationally toured with three productions, graced the big screen and has cracked TV advertising.
Pioneering is not too far behind either. One of the mainstream British Asian actors, Virdee’s name is joined to the emotional wretched truth of Land Gold Women: a heartbreaking story centring honour killings on British soil.
Land Gold Women created history as the first English film based on honour killing.
It is clear, the arts love him as much as he loves the arts.
DESIblitz wanted to hear more about his thoughts on his character – Uncle Madhu.
We asked Aaron Virdee if he enjoyed reprising the role of Uncle Madhu. He revealed:
“Absolutely! Uncle Madhu is such a lovable, endearing character. He is full of life and lights up every room.”
Virdee continued to mention what made him reprise the role after 6 years. He said:
“As part of lockdown stories, Kali Theatre had approached me and asked if I would like to reprise the role for a spin-off in Walking with Jelly Babies written by Sayan Kent.
“The team are brilliant and I have such good memories of Uncle Madhu, I had such pleasure and excitement bringing him back.”
Since playing Uncle Madhu in 2014, Virdee has gone on to some very notable roles.
In 2015, Virdee skilfully played Rishi/Sunny in The Deranged Marriage (2015) – an enchanting original scripted story outlining the woes of an arranged marriage when a secret love story threatens the happiness of the engaged couple.
The Government Inspector (2016), a quirky play revolving around panicked corrupt Russian officials, was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in An Affiliate Theatre during its time with the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
Another successful role for Aaron Virdee.
But each character resonates differently with their audience. Divulging in a more personal conversation with Virdee, we asked what type of person would like this character.
“Uncle Madhu would appeal to anyone, especially those who love attention.
“They would not need to do anything, he would bring the attention by standing next to them! He has an extrovert personality and likes to be heard.”
We asked Virdee about the inspiration for the costumes and headgear. He disclosed:
“When I reprised the role, I made him as close to the design from My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding. Abigail King was our costume designer during that production.
“Due to being on lockdown during COVID, I got creative with what I can use with the materials I have. The headgear material is used to cover my harmonium, I saw it and thought, let’s make that a turban!”
Do you actually like jelly babies?
“Yes. It has to be blackcurrant for me. I finished a whole bag during filming.”
How did you feel when ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’ went national?
“I was incredibly excited to take such a wonderful, humorous story around the country, it had reached out to audiences from all walks of life.
“The play embraced mixed cultures and touched on so many prejudices.
“The show was a success and so it was extended for London’s Southbank and some dates in the heart of the West End. I am very proud of the show.”
How hard is it to survive in the arts today?
“Very difficult at the moment due to Covid-19.”
“The industry has been a standstill over the months. Slowly, it is going back to normal.”
What is your favourite Desi dish and why?
“If I had to choose one it would be Saag Paneer.
“My Mum craved it throughout her pregnancy with me, I think that might be why. I can eat it for days on end.”
How connected do you feel to your Desi side after playing Uncle Madhu?
“His attributes resemble some of those of my family members, that and being from a Sikh background.
“I must say his Bollywood dancing and spins he did in My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding puts me in touch with my Desi side, you know there is always a first one on the dance floor!”
Virdee has also been associated with poignant Desi roles playing Maulana Azad in Azad & Jinnah: A Political Rivalry (2016).
The story is centred around two Muslim leaders debating political ideas in the 10-year run-up to the partition between India and Pakistan (1947).
Sadly, Covid-19 has disrupted the usual flow of life but as we all know, music, art and entertainment is our solace for a darkened world.
They illuminate a beacon of hope, amongst the chaos, showing how the human spirit endeavours.
The Kali Theatre has released a series of Lockdown stories, mentioned previously by Virdee, to provide a touch of theatre to everyone and anyone from the comfort of your own home.
All videos are available on YouTube for free viewing.
Aaron Virdee is a sensational actor, adapting to any role. His authentic Birmingham accent amplifies his characters’ personalities but also assists him during his more serious roles.
Seen on screen and in the theatre, Aaron Virdee is truly a talent to behold. His most recent work Walking With Jelly Babies just reaffirms his unquestionable flair for acting.
Make sure to watch Aaron Virdee as Uncle Madhu in Walking with Jelly Babies!