Writer and Director: Sami Sumaria
Sami Sumaria’s A Splash of Milk is a heartfelt exploration of racism within the queer community that explodes like a bubble of long-withheld rage in the small Hope Theatre space and in what feels like a deeply personal 45-minute monologue. Using a confessional style, Sumaria’s character opens up about expectations and prejudices inherent in dating white men while building some of the social structures around British South-Asian identity.
Sunny is 27, unemployed and back living in their mum’s house following a breakdown. Largely alone in their room, Sunny starts to reflect on the casual and more overt forms of racism they have experienced during casual hook-ups and more serious relationships, looking back to particular encounters that are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The most important thing a monologue needs to do is to establish a character the audience can warm to, care about or invest in while they tell us about their life and A Splash of Milk does this instantly. Whatever has happened to Sunny to bring them to this crisis point, they are a character that is ready to be heard and Sumaria allows Sunny’s personality to shine through a series of quite negative events. It gives the play a sound basis to spend time in their world, hearing about Sunny’s life and, crucially, empathising with the issues they raise.
Whether it be rugby-player Josh trying to sleep with as many nationalities as possible for a game or dog-loving Leo with a very particular fetish, there is an underlying reality to these stories that feels grounded in truth, so as A Splash of Milk unfolds, the volume and regularity of Sunny’s experiences aligns with their jaded response to them. The central premise about the divisions within the queer community and the experience of marginalisation in already marginalised groups is strongly conveyed and Sumaria’s piece builds a slow but deliberate outrage.
But the show needs more personal context and, with such a short running time, there are several avenues for expansion that can only support the messaging. The reason for Sunny’s return home is never mentioned and it seems the show is missing a final chapter explaining how these individual events brough them back to this place. Sunny mentions a joint India-Pakistani heritage as well as a family with Muslim and Hindu beliefs, while their mother occasionally calls from downstairs. Expanding this interaction and understanding more about Sunny’s various concepts of identity that include nationality, gender and sexuality would enhance A Splash of Milk.
There is similarly a technological solution to help with storytelling. Much of Sunny’s dating life is tied to apps and throughout the show they receive notifications from would-be lovers. Seeing some of those on a screen would add variety to the narrative methods but also provide some of the context for Sunny’s frustrations, particularly when the persistence of some of these contacts overwhelms them.
Performing their own work Sumaria has a gentleness in delivery that draws the audience into Sunny’s experience as “a cultural mess,” a platform they could use to share more about their character’s life. And while this is still quite a young show, there is a really promising basis here for marrying its political argument with the difficulties of navigating these complex identities at the personal level.
Runs until 10 December 2022