Fringe Online 2021
Written and performed by Sudha Bhuchar. Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith (both are co-founders of Tamasha Theatre). Music by Arun Ghosh. Produced by Bhuchar Boulevard.
Dedicated to mentor and friend, Philip Osment.
Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. Till July 28th
So where do you go with lockdown ravaging your face (Orwell’s dictum? No you get the fact you can afford) to settle down as a reduced family member of one in front of sensibly masked people to talk un-sensibly.
This freewheeling, heartwarming sometimes heart-cracking double-bill finds Sudha Bhuchar first confront, sorry converse with, her sons, then her daughters. There’s different gender registers: sons provoke history and life-chances. Daughters incite differences, intersectionality, prejudice, sexual and cultural dissonance.
We’re at the penultimate JST Footprints Festival production, though now there’s the Odyssey on Sunday. Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith with just a few props, the 1950s Utility dresser with glasses and a few yellow roses, a couple of stools, we’re not quite in Bhuchar’s living room but it’s mildly comfortable living. There’s a bit of guilt for you. The music’s by Arun Ghosh.
Whether roaming through the Mahabharata (OK, JST regulars will know the JST production is on demand till Sunday) and Vishnu dying on a bed of arrows, to the power of names with her sons, Evening Conversations – it sounds so attractive in Arabic – Bhuchar reflects on 26 years in Wimbledon Town inspired by the difference between Sudha’s cross-continent life and her dual-heritage millennial sons’ upbringing there, where either neighbours have never sold up in 120 years or they’re all asset management types in their thirties. And the sort of people who complain of war zones thrusting back a bagful of lost tennis balls from Bhuchar’s sons.
‘You’re the one with the identity crisis mum, not us!’
The alienation, the book clubs you’re not invited to, the empty wine bottles put out, the occasional suicide at Wimbledon Station where a barrier now prevents them with a Samaritan sign warns. It’s a good place SW19, and good people despite cold shoulders. Anonymous hot meals in grief, and much else. The sheer internationalism of new neighbours during the past year’s apparent now.
Family history, the postwar prosperity versus the trauma they sustained in Africa and Bangladesh, the trashing of her father’s qualifications so he drops dead possibly of a broken heart at 42, and Bhuchar found him.
Her sons the economics studiers tell Bhuchar of her own bias. Battles with the previous and next generations are inevitably both tragic and laugh-and-Eastenders-punchline moment….
Living in 40-watt sadness, isn’t sacrifice a selfish act. Bhuchar has a wat of threading both Bollywood film, incidents and long snatches of song – there’s nodding recognition from some in the audience –
Bhuchar’s rebellion is to marry beyond her background, so her sons are welcome potentially nowhere. She reflects on a taxi driver content with being second class in his own country.
Returning to the UK Bhuchar discovers he own blood cannot be used, despite her won sons saved with blood-banks. ‘Our genes are shit’ complain the sons. Blue eyes? Our bodies are riddled with colitis… hit the gym mum, melt some of your lockdown lard….’
With harangues over intersectionality, feminism batted back, the death of George Floyd, discussions around BAME and BLM, there’s still racism and marginality in Bhuchar’s own profession, felt most keenly: left on sidelines, ignored, have her best work turned down, seeing young white people privileged with perhaps less to offer. ‘White people are individuals, we are types..’ Now it’s meant to be changing, beyond empty optics. The frequent reference to Bhuchar’s agent being present, all this is important witness and it’s to JST’s credit to give her the platform to express it. There’s a few plugs about work at Tara Arts ‘Final Goodbye’ on Covid farewells, and film work, in Punjabi. ‘I’m a slasher’ meaning multi-disciplinary actor/writer etc.
Where do her dual heritage monolingual sons belong? Wimbledon…. We return to arrows, malware and we’re into Vishnu’s couch, the bed of arrows where we began in dimming light, a kind of enacted death.
A fine life-positioning monologue of 66 minutes with its circular imagery, you sense it has to be wedded to what follows. Which isn’t a monologue at all.
And Bhuchar’s back with both her daughters. The roles are well-taken by Shaheen Khan in Bhuchar’s role and Bhuchar’s real-life daughters Sophie Khan-Levy the elder actor, and Nyla Levy, the younger ex-stroppy one.
And the daughters are complaining. She’s chucked out Anna Karenina before they’ve read it, hid the Nutri-Bullet in a cupboard though they use it every day. Yet her mother kept everything. It’s a kind of Wimbledon tennis for three.
‘We’re millennials brought up as unicorns… mix race dual heritage, ‘are you authentic, are you the real deal…’ are you truly not white, Canadian Jewish Indian brought up in Africa and return to find it’s Pakistan, not ‘authentic’ enough for whites, but never white, one’s an actor, the other someone discovering a red mist of rage.
Discussions of feminism and wearing minimal dress pivots on far of rape, Sarah Everard, and somehow we’re at beans on toast and no carbs after seven. Bhuchar’s own cancer pivots us away again. Including guilt and the pressure to write about it.
‘Why do Deep Meaningful Conversations always end in Diversity or Death? It’s so depressing.’ Yet there’s a same-sex marriage – an Asian and white woman in the open, a far cry from Bhuchar’s edgier courting when Asian men looked askance at her betrayal.
There’s a moving fade out invoking the mother stitching in dim light, commemorating the dead.
Much briefer in its 20-minute compass you wish for more of this. The orchestration of three voices might mean badinage has less opportunity to flow than a monologue.
The entire show is advertised as 110 minutes, suggesting with no interval the second should have been 50. With three different actors enacting an interval-long triologue, there’s clearly a reason for this foreshortening – the material itself might easily be extended.
As it is we’re eavesdropping on fascinating, painful, enriching (that always sounds naff, but find your own adjective) and yes intersectional conversations. The theatre and film industry don’t come off unscathed, though this isn’t – perhaps prudently – explored more deeply. I wish it had been. There’s enough of ‘yah’ and RADA assumptions to prick up ears and interest, to take the climate of warm indifference and find it a few degrees below what we think it is. Unless you’re used to the same racism politely smiled back.
Still this isn’t what either piece is about. It’s the fact of living dual heritage, burdened by the past, screwed for the future when that burden’s lifted. Life over two generations is first guilt, then student debt. Older, you’re more sanguine. Doesn’t help millennials.
Iambics as the elder daughter points out, isn’t just what you learn in Shakespeare, which she’s not encouraged to appear in. It’s the rhythm of acceptance. In war poet Keith Douglas’s epitaph on himself you learn to speak it well, though in a stranger’s accent. Your children are born to it and somehow betrayed. Great-humoured though both pieces are, they do end on muted notes of death and the call of the past to make sense of it, and offer a nobility Wimbledon can’t reach.
Engrossing and warm, it should provoke too. Bhuchar absolves us by being bloody funny.