Writer: Shyam Bhatt
Director: Tiffany Nicole Greene
Reviewer: James Bartholomeusz
It may well be true that, as Gayatri Spivak once proclaimed, great victories against oppression are being won in the realm of critical theory. The insoluble problem, however, (as at least two generations of humanities scholars have now found) is that no amount of conceptual postulation in academic journals and jargon-suffused blog posts can be relied upon to carry over into real social change. Rather, it seems that the sophistication of critical theory has developed at the same pace as its isolation from the real world; prescient but clunky ideas such as ‘intersectionality’ still lack a popular idiom to carry them over into the public consciousness. These ideas require a voice like that of Shyam Bhatt: colloquial, irreverent, yet nonetheless bristling with anger against injustice.
Treya’s Last Dance is much smarter than its title or marketing might suggest. In the form of dramatic monologue with its wandering reminiscences, careful pacing of revelations and bittersweet realism, it somewhat strangely echoes Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – if Bennett had defenestrated decorum and written a mouthy, horny second-generation south-Londoner. The eponymous dance little more than a conceit: the actual setting is a dubious speed-dating night at which Bhatt’s Treya gradually reveals her family, the mingled fulfilments and oppressions that come with being part of ‘the immigrant community’, and her tragic relationship with her brother.
At times it feels as though there is too much peripheral baggage (like the dancing, the speed-dating soon recedes into the background) yet the central flow of both Bhatt’s writing and performance is superb. Notably, she is deft at managing cultural stereotypes in a way that avoids both racial profiling and preening political correctness – a rare skill indeed. This, surely, is what the various highfalutin theories of social oppression are lacking: an organic, unpretentious presentation of human experience, spoken in the language of ordinary people and – crucially – refusing to take itself too seriously. Blessedly, there was not a single mention of intersectionality throughout. Between the passive-aggression of a homophobic extended family and a gay couple arriving at a fancy dress party as Achilles and Patroclus, there was just no need.
Runs until 19 February 2016 | Image: Jay Snell