Writer and Performer: Saikat Ahamed
Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Perhaps it’s because Travelling Light Theatre Company’s main focus is on producing theatre for young people, but there’s something remarkably accessible about their 46th production, Strictly Balti, writer and performer Saikat Ahamed’s one-man show exploring the idea of identity.
Beginning as a small child on Christmas Day, Ahamed takes us on a journey through his childhood in Birmingham, the only child of a mother and father from Bangladesh. Understandably, his parents often take centre stage, his father in particular. He’s a proud, local GP who wants his son to be as British as possible (apparently ballroom dancing will achieve that)while maintaining how he’s Bangladeshi through and through. Yet he isn’t a monster, far from it. He’s a proud man, a loving man, a man struggling with his own issues of belonging. Ahamed, meanwhile, is juggling three different versions of himself, the most “British” of which, Syd, seems to be evading him at every turn.
The stage is populated only by four open-topped wooden boxes of differing sizes, which act as everything from presents to platforms to rooftops. Ahamed begins by suggesting that our whole lives are lived in boxes – houses, cars, food, waste. We’re often asked to define ourselves by them, too, when completing paperwork – in his case is he “Asian” or “British Asian”? And what does that actually mean, anyway?
Steering well clear of any kind of self-indulgence, Ahamed wisely keeps the story confined to just a few years of his life, culminating in a trip to his parent’s home country just after he leaves school at 18. He doesn’t try to “educate” or patronise. Instead, he takes the universally awkward milestones of growing up and raises the stakes by projecting onto them the confusion and self-consciousness of having to do so as a child of immigrant parents.
Ahamed is a hugely generous performer, honest and funny without trying too hard to be either. The result is a sweet, poignant hour of theatre that seeks to unite rather than divide.
Runs until 22 November 2015 | Image: Farrows Creative