Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Priyanka Shetty’s colourful and energetic solo show presents a personal journey and retelling of key events from her life. She quit her software job in India to become an actor and to pursue her own American dream. The show plays out backstage in the dressing room before her performance, the performer is anticipating the arrival of her parents, they will be in the audience tonight. She worries they will not like what they see, after all there is swearing and lots of personal family content. What will they think? It seems like she might not be able to go on.
This is an engaging story of growing up and wanting more for yourself, wanting something different than the expected path and what has been ordained. A mysterious parcel arrives, and Priyanka consults the tarot deck within, a deck themed around the Hindu elephant god Ganesha. The first selection is the wheel of fortune and as the clock ticks we cycle back in time and, through lively characterisations, we meet a cast of important people who have shaped and influenced her life. There are the aunties who worry about washing line decency and there is a controlling mother who wants the best for her daughter. She is torn between encouraging go-getting independence and holding her daughter too tight, giving in to a mother’s instinct to protect, as she tries to direct her offspring towards what is allowed, rather than the infinite possibilities of life. There is a poignant memory of her brother, she wants him back, but like the trouble-free life of play that she remembers so fondly, he too is long gone. There’s a first kiss, and colourful sights and sounds of life growing up in India, there is tragedy too. But as we are told where there is death there is also life.
Priyanka is a rebel at heart, cutting her hair short is just a start and an early indication that she wants to set herself free and seek a different path in life. Soon she has her mind set on leaving her home to follow an American dream. She dreams of being an actor, of moving to a dazzling spectacular place, the land of opportunity. There is however a price to be paid. To be an Indian in America is to be split in two different directions we are told. This is one woman’s story of otherness. Otherness within your own family and culture and otherness when you finally arrive in a place where you always wanted to be, but you do not feel so welcome.
This performance was in the Assembly Powder Room, a temporary space in the middle of George Street. Although on this Saturday afternoon there was a little noise and hubbub seeping in from outside, it did not disturb us and the audience attention was always on the performer and the events on stage. Lighting, music and voiceovers were used well to provide flashbacks, quick changes of scene and to keep the story moving at an appropriate and engaging pace.
We are presented with a strong and passionate performance and for those of us who have never had to face similar cultural pressures, restrictions and rejections we can only admire the actor’s journey. The elephant provides a central motif that runs throughout the performance. Elephants are social animals gathering into strong matriarchal units. Leaving and existing outside of the herd is full of challenges, it is usually just the male who will strike out on their own. Priyanka is a wild child who took power away from others and gave herself permission to be different and to be what she wanted to be. The elephant in this room is full of strength and deserves to be seen.