Ahir Shah: Control – The STUDIO, Birmingham REP

Reviewer: John Kennedy

There’s been much-impassioned talk of taking back control, to reclaim sovereignty over the endangered institutions that are allegedly the bedrock of British freedom – unless those holding office in those institutions run out of control and their heterodoxies render them ‘Traitors’ and ‘Mutineers’. Clearly, self-control, like the Devil that is currently poking his red-hot pitch-fork into all manner of indelicate places, is in the detail.

Shah celebrates that everyone has a right to hold an opinion, but that right doesn’t mean it is right. Opinions are like anuses -everybody has one, it’s just what they produce is so often indistinguishable. There’s a well-travelled trope about what the ‘Good Old Days’ never were – leaving the front-door unlocked and universal access to polio. Shah recognises he is, straddling the post-colonial divide. He has to own up to an ancestral irony – ‘Look what I did to me.’

Raging against the machinations of inchoate post-Referendum toxicity, the Twitter sewage of Trump and right-wing white victim fetishism, this is an articulate, timely polemic. A third generation, degree-educated man of Indian heritage, frightfully well-spoken, he quips, ‘I’ve been colonised by my own voice.’ Colonialism and Empire are riffs he revels in. There’s a scalpel-sharp routine where his Political Economist professor friend who voted Leave articulates an unassailable argument for her decision. Shah berates himself because he knows she’s wrong but can only resort to the default frustrated drunkard’s expostulation – But Mate, come on MATE! He revisits this howl of incoherence during the closing philippic.

Bigotry and racism are festering constants – the first cuts are always the deepest and he revels in picking the scabs. It may be compensatory displacement that has him thanking a passing car bellow of ‘Camel jockey!’ He actually rode across a starlit desert with his dad on camels – the most treasured moment of his life.

Globalisation and its adoption by reactionary reductionists as the counter-intuitive white man’s burden – conveniently, no black, brown, yellow differently-abled people were also harmed in this post-industrial phenomenon  – is the convenient panacea to mask a swathe of ugly rage. He sees the Brexit mantra of retro-nostalgia as a malign and dangerous deception: ‘Taking back our country,’ remonstrates the ideologues while embracing the convenient amnesia that what made Britain once great was weapons-grade invasion and subjugation. Political agendas eschew any balanced reassessment of what British history schools teach: ‘Henry VIII was a shagger and we won all the important Wars.’ Shah doesn’t quote Santayana’s Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,’ or Churchill’s later interpretation – little need. The purifying elephant in the room provides potent enough subtext.

He concedes all of this is a part of his own deception as well. People came expecting a stand-up comedian and got a lecture instead. Glass half full/empty perspective might have it that this was a seriously entertaining lecture stealth-stuffed with some top gags. Epilogue: Shun the snake-oil salesmen/women and their ersatz populism. From the dissemination of alternative truths from server-farm ‘bots’ to debate crushing dead cats on the table, the once-shocking becomes in turns just banal then assimilated as the new ‘normalisation’.  He name-checks Gandhi being asked what he thought about Western Civilisation? Sounds like a good idea.’ 

Shah’s is a skewered eye-view of a fractured world seen through a cracked lens clouded by the halitosis-breath of panting, haranguing bullies and bigots. This climaxes with impassioned barely contained anger-management with attitude. Almost as shocking as his pink socks this is banana-skin hubris meets the jackboot of blind delusion.


Reviewed on 8 February 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Snake-oil slick and volatile

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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